As Greece’s forests vanish, cannabis plantations thrive

Greece looks like becoming the Colombia of Europe, as plantations of Indian cannabis are being found from one end of the country to another, according to Greek police data. Nearly all (51 out of 53) police departments state that their officers seize an average total of 35,000 cannabis plants every year, but estimate that this represents just 30-40 percent of the total grown. Given that each plant produces 1 kilo of hashish on average, annual production of the drug appears to be well over 80 tons. Crete, Arcadia, Messinia, Ileia and Laconia lead the field, but only Arta and Grevena appear to have completely clean records. According to narcotics squad officers, the market price of a kilo of Greek-grown hashish is about 1,000 euros, putting the annual turnover at 80 million euros. The same sources claim that domestic production accounts for only 10-20 percent of local consumption; the remainder is grown in Albania. According to figures for 2006, over half (18,143) of the 32,170 plants seized were found on the island of Crete. Well-informed sources say most is exported in trucks carrying fruit and vegetables to Western Europe, where there are no inspections of cargoes because of the Schengen accord. In 2006 7,869 cannabis plants were seized in Arcadia, Ileia, Corinth, Laconia and Messinia, slightly more than the total uprooted the same year in the prefecture of Iraklion, Crete. The difference in the Peloponnese is that arrests are made with the seizure of the crops, something that does not happen on Crete, as shown by recent news including revelations of corruption on the island. In the Peloponnese, 71 people were arrested last year, but only 46 in Crete, where over double the number of plants were found. Most of the latter arrests involved Albanians guarding the plantations. An Ileia Police Department official said that 2,000 cannabis plants were uprooted and 20 people brought to trial this year. «Most plantations were small – just 60-70 plants, hidden either near residential areas or scattered throughout forests. Just one was found with as many as 700 plants,» he said. A high-ranking police officer in Agrinion told Kathimerini that most cannabis producers in the region have now become traders in the Albanian variety that is transported through the area from the neighboring country. «This year we have seized 900 kilos of processed hashish imported at almost zero cost, so it is little wonder no one bothers to grow it anymore – it just isn’t worth it.»