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    AFRICA'S POT WAR

    Feds Promoting Prohibition--in Ghana

    WHAT IF a poor African country could grow a plant that would fetch
    healthy prices in the U.S? What if the plant was harvested on small
    farms, encouraging democracy in this poor African country by putting
    cash into the hands of its poorest and most powerless people? What if
    such a crop would reduce the poor African country's dependence on U.S.
    aid?

    Of course, America's government would cheer such a plant and the
    country that grows it. And President George Bush would be especially
    happy, since improving living standards in Africa is supposed to be
    one of his key global objectives.

    Such a crop does exist, and an African country is growing it in good
    measure. Yet President Bush isn't cheering. Worse, the Bush
    administration is fighting a war against the plant and the farmers of
    the poor African country that grows it.

    The country is Ghana, in West Africa, and the plant is cannabis or
    "ganja," the term preferred by Ghanaians. Marijuana grown in Ghana is
    of good quality, plentiful and relatively inexpensive. Twenty neatly
    rolled sticks of pot, or about half an ounce, sell for about $3 American.

    That's right, good pot sells for $6 an ounce in Ghana. Here is the
    highest stage of capitalism--the free market--in action.

    Ghana is one of the most peaceful countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The
    country rarely sees any violence (a benefit of pot-smoking?), has a
    democratically elected government and boasts one of the freest
    societies in Africa. Pot has been grown and smoked in the country for
    decades, drawing little comment. In Accra, the coastal capital of
    Ghana, people smoke discreetly, to be sure, because the sale and
    possession of pot is technically illegal. But pot is easy to purchase,
    arrests are rare and smoking is popular, especially among American and
    European aid workers in the country.

    For pot smokers, Accra is an African paradise. But like many a
    paradise in Africa, Accra is threatened by a man-made disaster. The
    disaster, funded by American tax dollars, is the Drug Enforcement
    Administration (DEA).

    I am no expert in the world's drug wars, or the DEA, but I spent the
    better part of the past two years in Ghana and I never saw any signs
    of pot ripping apart the fabric of Ghanaian life. There are no drug
    lords in Accra, no gun-toting bodyguards or pot addicts strewn across
    the city's derelict roads.

    Just the opposite is occurring, actually. Pot is giving a people
    starved for economic opportunity a chance to participate in the global
    economy. Ghana is one of the losers in the world's experiment with
    widening trade. Goods flood into Ghana from China, Brazil, Mexico
    - even the U.S. And not just manufactured products either. Butter is
    imported from France, pasta and canned tomatoes from Italy, rolled
    oats from Germany and rice from the U.S. Because the cost of producing
    and shipping these foods is subsidized by European, U.S. and Canadian
    governments, their cost in Ghana is sometimes less than it is in the
    country of origin. And even if it isn't, these imports ruin the lives
    of African food producers. American rice, imported into Ghana, sells
    for substantially less than rice grown in Ghana.

    The burden of food imports would be less crushing if Ghana exported an
    equal amount of goods. But the country doesn't. It hardly exports
    anything. The country's two leading exports are cacao beans (the basic
    ingredient in cocoa and chocolate) and gold. These exports are the
    foundation of Ghana's economy--today and 100 years ago.

    Ghana has low farm costs, making it an attractive place (in theory) to
    grow fruits and vegetables. But because of deplorable "feeder" roads
    to Ghana's cities and ports, roughly one-third to one-half of the
    country's crop of delicious pineapples rots before reaching market.
    Nearly as many of Ghana's plentiful bananas suffer the same fate.

    Marijuana has a longer shelf life. For poor Ghana, it offers a
    lifeline to a more diverse and durable economic future.

    To achieve this does not require a revolution in world drug laws
    either. European countries have eased their restrictions on marijuana,
    creating a chance for African growers to tap the huge market in cities
    such as Amsterdam, Stockholm and Copenhagen. After all, West Africa is
    a short hop by sea or plane to Western Europe, giving Africans an edge
    over producers elsewhere in the world.

    Simply, then, by sticking to the gray area of the world's fuzzy pot
    laws, Ghana could reap substantial benefits. Instead, the U.S. insists
    that Ghana buy American rice, yet refuses to allow its citizens to
    purchase Ghana's marijuana. Whatever the arrangement is, it is not
    free trade.

    Adding to the injury, the Bush administration wants to fuel a drug war
    in Ghana, where pot exporters are so sophisticated and nefarious that
    their preferred method of transporting weed is to hide it in shipments
    of yams bound for Europe.

    Against this menace stands the DEA. About six months ago, the agency
    privately persuaded the government of Ghana to accept its advice and
    mount a campaign of resistance against pot production and
    distribution. The DEA offered the carrot of "technical
    assistance"--jargon in foreign-aid speak for equipment and cash that
    African police, who are woefully underpaid, long for.

    For now the DEA-inspired move against Ghana's pot growers has resulted
    in publicized destruction of fields, some arrests--and more aid for


    Ghana from a grateful U.S. government.

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