A new strain of extra-potent marijuana, reportedly bred from seeds native to the U.S. and Europe, may be bringing in huge profits for Colombian rebel group the FARC.
The strain is known in Colombia as "creepy" for its high levels of THC, the active psychoactive ingredient in the plant, which can be up to 20 percent higher than in other types.
Extremely potent, quickly harvested, and very popular, "creepy" marijuana is selling for much higher prices than other strains in the Colombian market. According to El Tiempo, a kilo may fetch as much as 100,000 pesos (about $56), 10 times as much as the regular price.
The new strain of marijuana is primarily produced in the southwest department of Cauca, where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) are carrying out a sustained offensive against the security forces. Cauca has emerged as the heartland for Colombia's marijuana crops. According to one estimate by police, cited by El Tiempo, up to 95 percent of the country's production of the drug moves through Cauca, heading towards foreign markets like Ecuador, or else to urban centers in Colombia. Hundreds of kilos of Cauca marijuana have been seized in major Colombian cities like Bogota.
Last year police said they seized 228 tons of marijuana, with a reported 39 tons seized from the FARC along Colombia's western mountain range, which Cauca sits astride. Recent seizures in this department, like the discovery on June 8 of 14 tons of marijuana, worth an approximate $20 million, are a reminder of how much the rebels have come to depend on this cash crop in the region.
The FARC's 6th Front controls much of the trade, running large industrial marijuana farms in the municipality of Corinto. The front also supplies the local market in the nearest big city, Cali. Police estimate that 90 percent of the front's finances consists of profits from marijuana sales.
The rise in marijuana crops has accompanied an increase in coca cultivation in Cauca. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 6,144 hectares of coca were registered in Cauca in 2009, representing a steady, annual increase from 2004, when just 1,266 hectares were found. Coca has increased in the department even as it has decreased in the other areas controlled by the FARC's Joint Western Command, the military bloc which directs the 6th Front.
The extra cash from these drug crops, including the new strain of "creepy" marijuana, is funding the FARC's offensive in Cauca. The increased concentration of drug crops in this department also explains why the rebels have chosen to invest resources here. Car bombs, minefields, sniper attacks and full-on assaults against towns are all typical rebel tactics in the department, with over 27 attacks registered so far this year. One of the rebels' main drug trafficking corridors to the Pacific coast runs through Cauca, and the security forces are charged with cutting them off. So far, some of the worst fighting has been seen in the conflict-ridden municipalities of Toribio and Caldono, which is also near where the biggest marijuana crops are found in Corinto.
The huge shipments of marijuana that the security forces have seized in Cauca indicate just how easy it is to supply the crop to the domestic market. Marijuana is less lucrative than cocaine, so in some ways, the FARC can afford to lose a greater amount of marijuana shipments to interdiction without their profits being badly affected. Smaller shipments of marijuana -- or smaller production centers, instead of the industrial-style farms with over 8,000 plants seen in Corinto -- would allow the rebels to better limit their losses. The fact that they are not breaking down these marijuana shipments into smaller lots is one indication that the FARC can afford to have a massive shipment seized, now and then.
And with the "creepy" strain looking quite lucrative, the rebels may soon have another popular market-flooding product to add to cocaine.