Cannabis, also known as hemp and ganja, may not be in the same stature as illegal substances like yaba and phensedyl, but it has a user base as big – if not bigger – as these contraband narcotics in Bangladesh, which means its trade is also as strong.
At least 300 major drug peddlers sell cannabis in Dhaka alone, running their business with their cohorts at 500 or more spots in the city, according to law enforcement and narcotics authorities.
While most of them become active after nightfall, some dealers can be found selling cannabis during daytime as well.
“We have made a list of 300 drug peddlers in Dhaka. In addition, we have learnt about more than 3,000 drug smugglers after a countrywide investigation,” said Deputy Inspector General Syed Towfique Uddin Ahmed, director (intelligence and operations) at the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC).
“We have sent the lists to the Ministry of Home Affairs to take further action against the criminals,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
He further added that they had made roughly 3,500 region-wise lists of drug peddlers who are active around the country.
He did not disclose any names so as not to hamper their ongoing anti-drug operations.
According to the crime map of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, there at least 500 spots in Dhaka where drug dealers run their business. However, the DNC has identified 100 spots in the city where the dealers are active, said DNC Director Towfique.
It comes cheap
The Dhaka Tribune visited several cannabis selling joints in Dhaka where most dealers turned out to be women and children.
Compared to other illegal substances, cannabis comes really cheap, although the prices may vary depending on the area of sale as well as the supply.
“A client has to pay only Tk200-500 for 25g of cannabis in the Tejgaon rail track area, but the same amount is pricier in posh areas like Gulshan,” said Mina (not her real name), a drug peddler.
Her associate Kajal (not her real name) said: “We sometimes do home delivery, for which we charge Tk50-200, depending on the area of delivery.”
Cannabis is the first illegal substance that all potential addicts try before they move on to hard drugs – perhaps because it is easier and much cheaper to obtain.
Cannabis is both grown locally and illegally smuggled into the country, according to dealers and law enforcement officials.
Some cannabis peddlers near the Airport railway station in Uttara said they bring in their product hidden in cotton sacks, fruit baskets and other packages. Train is a popular mode of transport for the peddlers.
Officials have learnt – mostly from arrested cannabis dealers – that Comilla and Brahmaputra are the two most used entry points through which smugglers bring cannabis into the country. Then it is brought to Dhaka via both roadways and railways.
Sometimes, cannabis has been brought in via airways too. On April 20, 2016, law enforcement authorities recovered 4kg of cannabis from a luggage coming in from London.
However, it is the first known incident of cannabis smuggling by air.
Cannabis is grown in several regions in Bangladesh, especially the hilly and northern districts, according to the detained dealers.
During some anti-drug drives, the DNC and law enforcement agencies found that cannabis is farmed in many areas inside Dhaka city as well.
On May 5 this year, DNC officials seized three 12 feet long cannabis trees from a plot owned by a sweater manufacturing factory in Uttara.
Cannabis plants have been found in different homes, dormitories, and empty plots too, they added.
“Farming cannabis like this is completely illegal,” said DNC Deputy Director (Dhaka metropolitan) Mukul Jyoti Chakma.
Not high on the priority list
DNC, police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Border Guard Bangladesh and Bangladesh Coast Guard have all been conducting their own operations to curb drug smuggling in the country.
It is through this crackdown that the law enforcement agencies learnt how big a market cannabis has in Bangladesh.
“It is easily as big as the yaba business,” said DNC Additional Director (Intelligence) Md Nazrul Sikder.
Yet, cannabis has not been a priority illegal substance for the DNC or the law enforcement agencies conducting anti-drug drives.
Several law enforcement officials, seeking anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune that the focus is still set on yaba.
However, officials firmly said they were committed to eradicate peddling and use of all narcotic substances.
To curb the smuggling, Bangladesh officials have requested India to destroy the cannabis farmlands near the Bangladesh-India border so the smuggling can be stopped, which India agreed to, said DNC Deputy Director Mukul Jyoti Chakma.
India did destroy several cannabis farmlands near the border in January this year. The Indian Border Security Force also seized at least 100kg of cannabis in North 24 Pargana district, West Bengal on April 19.
Some of the officials, however, said they had hardly made any headway in stemming the supply of cannabis into the local market.
The records of last three years regarding DNC’s recovery of the illegal substance shows that more and more of the illegal substance has been seized by them, but it also shows that the supply has also increased.
“The DNC and other law enforcement agencies are strict on all kinds of drug trade, but it is still difficult to control the inflow,” said DNC Director Syed Towfique Uddin Ahmed. “The progress is gradual.”
Sahely Ferdous, assistant inspector general (media) at Bangladesh Police headquarters, said: “Our commitment to stop drug smuggling is evident through the number of drug recovery related cases, which is higher than any other cases.”
RAB Legal and Media Wing Director Commander Mufti Mahmud Khan said: “We are currently more focused on stopping yaba smuggling and trade because of its widespread use. But we are working to eradicate the use of all kinds of narcotics.”
Cannabis and its consumption
Cannabis, which is also known as marijuana, hemp and several other names, is a genus of flowering plant in the family Cannabaceae. Out of three species, Cannabis Sativa is indigenous to central Asia and Southeast Asia.
Cannabis Sativa grows naturally in a number of tropical and humid places of the world. Its use as a mind-altering drug has been documented by archaeological finds in prehistoric societies in Eurasia and Africa.
A contraband drug item in Bangladesh, cannabis has long been used for hemp fiber, for hemp oils, for medicinal purposes and as a recreational drug. Industrial hemp products are made from cannabis plants selected to produce an abundance of fiber.
Although hasiah or hash is sometimes eaten raw or mixed with boiling water, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids are more efficiently absorbed into the bloodstream when combined with butter and other lipids or, less so, dissolved in ethanol. It can also be consumed as a cannabis tea.
The United Nations Narcotics Convention cites that some cannabis strains have been bred to produce minimal levels of THC, the principal psychoactive constituent.
Among several ways of cannabis consumption, forms of smoking or oral consumption are most common. Each method leads to subtly different psychoactive effects due to the THC and other chemicals being activated and then consumed through different administration routes.
Many plants have been
selectively bred to produce a maximum of THC (cannabinoids), which is obtained by curing the flowers. Various compounds, including hashish and hash oil, are extracted from the plant.
In 2013, about 60,400 kilograms of cannabis were produced legally globally. An estimated 182.5 million cannabis users -- 3.8 percent of the population aged 15–64 -- were found across the world the next year.
Cannabis in Bangladesh
The first know use of cannabis in present day Bangladesh was sometime in 1722 as the plant began to be cultivated in Nogaon.
By 1877, cannabis cultivation became very popular after the British Raj gave the East India Company cultivation license in 1876.
In 1917, a total 18 cannabis cultivators of Nogaon formed a cooperative, the “Nogaon Cannabis Cultivators Cooperative Society Limited” and enlisted under the Directorate of Cooperative Society. At one point, there was over 7,000 members in the cooperative.
Before 1947, the cannabis cooperative was the largest cooperative society in the sub-continent. From 1918 to 1947, an average of 20.52 hundred thousand kilogrammes of cannabis was exported to India, Nepal, Myanmar, England and other European countries.
Around the same time during the early part of the 20th Century, most Western countries began to criminalise the use of cannabis in medicine and for recreational use.
When Bangladesh signed the Geneva Convention in 1974, one of the condition was that the signatories had to ban cannabis cultivations by 1990. Bangladesh, criminalised cannabis use and cultivation in 1987.
The sale of cannabis was banned 1989. The current Narcotics Control Act-1990 gives the courts discretionary ability to impose the death sentence for the possession of cannabis of over two kilograms.
However, even after cannabis usage was banned the estate and properties of the Cannabis Cultivators’ Cooperative Society still exist inNogaon district.
In 2005 UNODC Bangladesh country profile said cannabis is still being cultivated, particularly in Naogaon, Rajshahi, Jamalpur, Netrokona, Cox’s Bazaar, Bandarban, Khagrachhari and Rangamati.
Reliable figures for the total area of cannabis production in Bangladesh are not available.