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Morocco: Marijuana economy goes up in smoke

Former pot culture now being squeezed by Moroccan authorities.

Attempts by police to search one farmer's house for cannabis  sparked the anger of the local population. Military and police trucks surrounded the house at 4 a.m. on April 10. But the farmer’s wife barred entry and dozens of neighbors gathered around to support the family.

The next day, an estimated crowd of 10,000 people — mostly young men — gathered in the main street of the village to voice their anger.

Villagers say that the local authorities regularly threaten them with warrants to prevent them from talking. They make sure farmers know that they can arrest them at any time they choose. The authorities invoked the presence of illegal weapons as an excuse to search the house.

"They accused us of having weapons and I told them we did not have any. A policeman checked my father-in-law's house and didn’t find anything,” said Abdelouaret El Bohidi, a cannabis farmer. ”Here, everyone knows each other. They know there aren't any weapons and that we are against weapons.”

In the region, there are a few palatial houses owned by a handful of farmers and middlemen who have profited from cannabis cultivation and the production of hashish. But the vast majority of locals struggle to earn a decent living in the face of obligatory bribes and poor weather conditions.

El Bohidi produces about 10 kilos a year that he sells at $300 each. He says that he has no choice but to bribe the local authorities. But it was the bribery payments to local authorities that brought these cultivators to break their silence.

"This is everything I own: I use it to buy grains, wheat, oil, soap, school books. I use it to pay electricity,” said El Bohidi, referring to a bag of marijuana. “If they take this from me, I will lose my mind. I won’t have anything left to feed my children.”

One farmer who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation said that two or three times a year he has to bribe the authorities. They usually come to his house and bargain over his freedom.

"If you don't give them anything, you go to jail,” he said. “They have nothing to lose. They throw you in jail to set you as an example to the others."

The farmers want the government to take a strong stance to stop the harassment for bribes.

"If they want to forbid us to cultivate, they should tell us on television, or our elected officials should tell us,” said Mohamed Amaghir, another farmer. “We will cultivate something else if they give us the means to do it. All we are asking for is a piece of bread and nothing else."