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  1. Balzafire
    View attachment 17221 A popular joke among ganja lovers back in the day was that "Jamaica is the land of wood, water, and weed." But at the rate the police's ganja-eradication drive is going, that quip may soon hold little water.

    Police statistics show that up to September, ganja seizures surpassed last year's take by 11,000 kilograms.

    According to the police, 28,354 'kilos' was seized locally between January and September, compared to 17,035 kilos for the corresponding period last year.

    September was a good month for the police as they seized 1,676.93 kilos of ganja, approximately 100 kilos more than September 2009.

    There was also a jump in the clampdown on ganja land. Police figures reveal that 21.965 hectares of ganja were eradicated in September, compared to 19.43 in 2009.

    'Farmers' in the traditionally fertile parishes of St Elizabeth and Westmoreland felt the brunt of the police raids.

    Successful operations were also conducted in Hanover, St Ann, and St Thomas.

    Cocaine trade down

    The cocaine trade has also taken a beating. At the start of the decade, the police estimate that the trans-shipment flow out of Jamaica was 10,000 kilos of cocaine each year.

    The trade peaked in 2004 when 1,735.51 kilos was seized. Now, the estimated trans-shipment flow has fallen dramatically to below 1,000 kilos, with only 265.96 kilos of 'coke' seized by the police in 2009.

    Superintendent Warren Clarke, head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's Transnational Crime and Narcotics Division, told The Sunday Gleaner that after a banner year in 2009, the police went all out to maintain pressure on drug dealers this year.

    "The Police High Command has increased policing resources at the ports due to intelligence that they were increasingly vulnerable," Clarke said. The strategy has, so far, been effective.

    Since 2007, the police have arrested 20,993 persons on drug charges, with several of these arrests taking place at the Norman Manley International and Sangster International airports.

    Twenty arrests have been made at the airports so far this year.

    Fifty-one persons, in 2009, were held trying to take illegal drugs out of the country.

    "This highlights the reduction in the flow of narcotics through the airports due to increased enforcement and the reduced capacity of drug syndicates," Clarke said.

    Almost all persons convicted received custodial sentences, which range from 18 months to three years.

    The Jamaican Government's push to cripple the illegal drug trade began in the early stages of this decade when several mules (persons who smuggle drugs abroad) were arrested at major British airports.

    So prevalent were the arrests that the British media unflatteringly dubbed the national carrier 'Air Cocaine'. Incensed by these developments, the British government threatened sanctions against Jamaica if it failed to clamp down on the country's thriving drug network.

    Dr Peter Phillips was minister of national security during the embarrassing drug-mule period.

    He said convicting the masterminds of Jamaica's drug cartels was critical.

    "Our analysis was that once you get to the main income stream, a lot of your problems were solved," Phillips told The Sunday Gleaner.

    Phillips said the Jamaican Government was assisted in this fight by its counterparts in Britain, Canada, and the United States, as well as The Bahamas and Colombia, two countries which figured prominently in the notorious cocaine trade of the 1970s and 1980s.

    Main players caught

    In 2004, three men believed to be main players in Jamaica's ganja and cocaine market were arrested.

    Leebert Ramcharan and Donovan 'Plucky' Williams of Montego Bay, and Norris 'Deedo' Nembhard of St Ann were arrested by a joint Jamaica-US drug-enforcement team and eventually extradited to the United States.

    In 2008, they each received lengthy prison sentences in that country.

    Clarke said with those big players out of the picture, the cocaine trade nosedived significantly.

    Ramcharan, Williams, and Nembhard were the country's version of Miami's 'Cocaine Cowboys', amassing multimillion-dollar fortunes.

    In 2003, US president George W. Bush named Ramcharan as one of the US' most wanted drug kingpins.

    Jamaica's drug scene evolved from tourists getting a leisurely high from a 'spliff' in the late 1960s, to a lucrative business during the 1970s.

    Many people made a fortune off the trade, shipping mainly to the US.

    Experts rated Jamaican ganja as highly as cocaine from Colombia, home of the infamous Cali and Medellín cartels. However, with California and neighbouring Mexico also producing high-grade weed, the market became more competitive, and demand for the Jamaican product in the US declined in the 1990s.

    Cocaine, which replaced ganja and heroin as the substance for 'clubbers' in the late 1970s, took hold in Jamaica in the 1990s.

    While not as lucrative, Phillips said ganja was making a comeback in remote areas of rural parishes like St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, and Hanover.

    Sophisticated system

    The profile of most ganja producers was similar to that of moonshiners in the Southern United States.

    "Most of them are itinerant, folk-based farmers, but over time, their system became sophisticated and they had big plantation operations," Phillips explained.

    A 2008 report by the United Nations, World Drug Report, showed Mexico with 7,400 metric tons as the largest annual producer of ganja, followed by Paraguay (5,900 metric tons).

    They were way ahead of the US (4,700), Colombia, Brazil, the Caribbean (notably St Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica), and Guatemala.

    Howard Campbell
    October 10, 2010


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