Lawmakers in Kazakhstan’s upper house of parliament have demanded that police crack down on what they say is the rampant cannabis-growing industry in the south of the country.
Addressing the head of the Interior Ministry, the deputies noted on May 24 that they were concerned that the strain of the plant being cultivated in the Kyzylorda region, Cannabis indica, is five times more powerful than the native variety that grows wild.
Vladimir Volkov said he was concerned at the steep rise of criminality in the region, which has a population of less than 800,000. He said that police last year had uncovered 475 drug-related offenses, a rise of 34 percent on 2016. Over five years, 84 drug plantations have been discovered, he said.
The illegal business appears to be attracting not just organized crime but also regular rural inhabitants. Police last year detained a 60-year-old man living near the village of Shirkeili in the Kyzylorda region on suspicion on tending to several plots of cannabis plants. The man was reportedly seeing through the whole process, from growing and drying the plants to processing the marijuana.
The details of that story was carried in a report by Karavan, which also quoted a local resident as saying that marijuana is simply not considered a drug in the area.
“These people live like everybody else. They have jobs and a family, they raise children and care for them and smoking … grass here doesn’t ruin the broader picture,” the resident said.
Local prosecutors say that the tolerance for the consumption of drugs complicates the work of police officers as nobody is willing to report criminal offenses.
There have been some calls to exploit Kazakhstan’s naturally growing wild cannabis crops instead of destroying them. One such call has come from Dariga Nazarbayeva, the daughter of the president. In 2014, she suggested using the plant for industrial and medicinal purposes.
Indeed, there are companies in Kazakhstan already tapping into the country’s cannabis riches and producing hemp products for export to markets in the Netherlands, Russia and China. A company called KazHemp has taken the lead on this and plans by 2022 to expand its fields under cultivation to 50,000 hectares, up from the current 4,000 hectares.
As the company is careful to point out on its website, however, it only uses “non-narcotic varieties of cannabis.”
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.