News / Africa

Liberia Struggles to Crack Down on Marijuana Farmers

A peasant farmer tends her crop of about 30 young marijuana plants, May 22, 2005.
A peasant farmer tends her crop of about 30 young marijuana plants, May 22, 2005.
Jennifer Lazuta
Farmers in Liberia are turning to growing marijuana to make ends meet. Law enforcement officials in Bong County say weak drug laws make it difficult to crack down on what remains a largely domestic marijuana trade.

Nathaniel Cico has been growing marijuana at his central Liberia farm since last year.

“I grow marijuana. It is what I have been doing over the past year to sustain my family and myself," he explained. "There are no jobs in the country. Things are very tough. How do people expect us to survive if things are very tough, [if there are] no jobs?”

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says marijuana is the world’s most widely used illegal drug. The UNODC says many African countries, like Liberia, have ideal growing climates for marijuana. As a crop, marijuana allows farmers to make a nice profit with very little upfront investment.

Minimal penalties

Growing, selling and buying marijuana is illegal in Liberia, as in most African countries, but penalties are minimal and not enforced. Liberian law enforcement officials told VOA that they don’t have enough resources, or strong enough laws, to go after offenders.

 “Currently, the laws on the book, in my view, are very weak," said Flomo Weahma, the Liberian Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) local chief for central Liberia, where most of the country’s marijuana is grown. "And they are permissive of these acts that are perpetrated by criminals who continue to have these drugs in our communities, that have caused our children, our brothers, our fathers and our mothers to become addicted to these harmful substances."

Liberian DEA officials said posting bail costs just $72 for drug crimes, and that is only if they are arrested and charged.

Moses Pewu is a marijuana farmer in central Liberia. He said he has been stopped many times by security personnel but has always been let go.

“There are risks involved in selling marijuana, [but] it is a good business. One bag is sold for $300 US. Marijuana is a good help," Pewu said. "We make a lot of money in selling marijuana.”

Drug usage

The UNODC says a quarter of the world's marijuana is grown in Africa. It says up to 13.5 percent of the adult population uses it. This is higher than the global average of between two and five percent.

Experts say that marijuana has been grown and used in Africa for centuries, though recent data on production and seizures is scarce.

Pierre Lapaque is the UNODC representative for West and Central Africa. He said marijuana production in the region remains small-scale.

“It’s cultural. Large parts of the population do smoke marijuana. But the most important trafficking within the region is happening either within the country -- so it’s produced and consumed locally -- or its produced locally and consumed in neighboring countries within the region,” he noted.

Lapaque said a more pressing threat in West Africa is transnational organized crime, which is more commonly associated with drugs like cocaine.

“As soon as it becomes a transnational market, then it becomes a criminal niche where you can make business. Then it is very serious and it starts impacting on the governments," he warned. "And that’s where it is important for all governments to understand that they have to work not only by themselves, but with the international community in order to be able to address this problem.”

Survival

Liberian drug officials say local production and consumption of marijuana is a problem. Those involved in the trade said they couldn’t survive without it.

Farmer Tony Wesseh has been growing and selling marijuana in Liberia’s Bong County for more than five years.

“Yeah, I make money out of marijuana. I want to sustain my family with the money. I have my children going to school. They don’t have money to pay that tuition. That’s the only drugs I can think to sell to people who are in need of it,” he explained.

Liberia’s DEA director, Anthony Souh, said marijuana is illegal, no matter what.

“You cannot take crime to be an income-generating activity. What is a crime is a crime," he stressed. "To go into drugs does not justify one’s desire to make money because there are other cash crops that can make money as well.”

As African cities grow and Africa’s youth population booms in coming decades, the UNODC expects the number of marijuana users on the continent to rise as well, raising new challenges for drug control.

Prince Collins contributed to this report from Bong County.

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Comments
     
by: gcmercier from: UK
December 26, 2012 4:47 PM
A majority of US citizens are opposed to the prohibition of cannabis. The US government has no legitimacy as the world's moral police to impose the prohibition of cannabis against the wishes of the majority of its own citizens onto other nations where cannabis is part of the local cultural norms.

by: PJ from: Korea
December 26, 2012 6:34 AM
They are struggling to crack down on it because theyre fighting something that doesnt need to be fought. Let it be. Let it be.

by: knowa from: USA
December 25, 2012 5:25 PM
It is time for the world to back out of the 1961 UN Treaty on Narcotics it was based on Lies and corrupted people think of all the jobs that could be had not to forget energy independence.

by: David Stewart from: Singapore
December 25, 2012 5:50 AM
We are witnessing the death throes of prohibition while its advocates make a desperate and frantic last stand, their final frenzy. In years to come, the attitudes that now prevail towards people that choose cannabis will be as politically incorrect as racism, homophobia or denying women the vote.

by: John Thomas
December 24, 2012 3:39 PM
With the name "Bong County," this HAD to happen. 8^)

by: Malcolm Kyle from: Bong County
December 24, 2012 2:16 PM
We shall defend God's gift whatever the cost may be: We shall smoke in Bong County, we shall smoke on the beaches; we shall smoke on collage grounds; we shall smoke in the fields and in the streets; we shall smoke in the hills. We shall never surrender our stash! And, even if, which I do not for a moment believe, we were to remain subjugated and persecuted by these evil corporations, then our enlightened friends beyond the seas would carry on the struggle, until in God's good time, the New World, with all its re-discovered hemp based power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old. —Winstone Hempchill

by: Greg Patchick from: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
December 24, 2012 12:11 PM
Trying to prohibit the cultivation of plants is impossible.
Marijuana, hemp, cannabis is an extremely multi-beneficial plant.
Governments across our planet should see the great potential this amazing plant has to offer, and instead of trying to prohibit it, it should be promoting it.
It is the third fastest growing plant in the world, and can provide food, fiber, fuel, and medicine to billions of people. It is non-toxic, easy to cultivate, and can provide millions of new jobs if the world finally sees all the various products this plant can produce.
Uruguay is very close to having a regulated marijuana market, and in the United States, two states have recently legalized the use, and cultivation of small amounts. However, it is the hemp plant- the variety of marijuana that contains no THC- at least not enough to be useful as a drug, but can be used to make biodegradable plastic, and butanol- a very useful fuel from hemp's cellulose.
So, to try and keep such a special plant illegal is futile, and should now be seen as a boon for all mankind, and be regulated, cultivated, and utilized to maximize all its wondrous properties.

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