As crafty marijuana smugglers in Malawi are evading arrest with all sorts of tricks, police are now targeting the source of production – marijuana fields.
The new strategy was bearing fruit. Over the weekend 2000kg of Indian hemp were uprooted, Harry Kamwaza, a deputy police spokesperson in central Malawi’s Kasungu district, said on Tuesday.
A 51-year-old farmer was arrested.
“The marijuana barons and their traffickers are crafty. Some of them transport the illegal weed in coffins and hired ambulances. It is difficult for the police at roadblocks to suspect that an ambulance with its sirens wailing can be used by the drug mafias to transport Indian hemp. In the wake of such tricks, the best approach is to destroy cannabis in the fields, it is grown,” he said.
It was however not easy to identify marijuana fields.
“For instance, the Indian hemp we uprooted at the weekend in Kasungu district was planted at the centre of a tobacco garden. In some areas, the farmers grow hemp in large sugarcane plantations, while others do so in inaccessible mountainous areas and hence there is need for good intelligence to identify the fields,” he said.
Station officer for Nathenje police in Lilongwe, John Namalenga, said they were making gains but it was not easy. He was involved in an operation where over 10,000 cannabis plants were destroyed in mountainous areas in the Kasungu and Mzimba districts.
Other tricks included using cemeteries and graveyards as storehouses or distribution points.
Despite police raids on marijuana fields, Malawi remained one of Africa’s largest producers of cannabis. It was smuggled to the lucrative South African market.
Last year Malawian police seized over 13,000kg of marijuana, while this year the police had already seized about 6000kg.
According to a United Nations Development Assistance Framework report, in the late 1990s an estimated 385 000 acres in Malawi were devoted to the cultivation of marijuana.
Malawi produced over 100,000kg of marijuana every year. Police only impounded a fraction of this and the rest was trafficked abroad.
One legislator, Boniface Kadzamira, told Parliament that Malawians should not let their economy collapse when the country could generate millions of dollars in foreign exchange by simply cultivating and exporting hemp.
“Much as we cannot agree on narcotic hemp, but we should at least have a consensus on industrial hemp,” he said.
A continental African network, the Kemet Forum, was appealing to Malawi to re-consider the status of hemp.
According to the group, cannabis is a generic name for a plant whose varieties are industrial hemp and marijuana.
While marijuana contains high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, industrial hemp has little or none of the psychoactive ingredient.
The network said if legislation would permit the production of industrial hemp using modern technology, the by-products could be exported.
“Harnessing the enormous industrial and nutritional values of hemp by essentially treating it as a viable cash crop and essential raw material will have a positive impact on the economy of Malawi as far as investment, manufacturing, exports, job creation and taxation, among others, are concerned,” the network said in a statement signed by its interim chairperson Sangwani Msofi and its secretary Alvin Ngoma.
Whereas some campaigners wanted only industrial hemp legalised, the Rastafarian community in Malawi was calling for the decriminalisation of all cannabis varieties.
The Rastas argued that Malawi’s “Golden Cob” was enjoyed worldwide and its legalisation would generate more revenue than industrial hemp.
Opponents of the proposal were basing their arguments on the devastating effects of cannabis on users, including mental illness.
Nelson Zakeyu, director of local NGO, Drug Fight Malawi, feared the move would lead to people abusing marijuana.
“We should be careful to avoid creating a nation of lunatics,” he said, adding that mental hospitals were crowded with drug abusers.