After a day working on his Battambang province farm, 51-year-old Steng Som Eurn enjoys quiet evenings with friends and family, eating together, rehashing the day’s events and, often, passing around a bamboo water pipe filled with homegrown marijuana.
But over the past few years, the farmer from Kors Kralor district said, it has become more and more difficult to either find or grow cannabis plants, which members of his community traditionally use for cooking, medicine and recreation.
“We used it for a long time in my village,” Steng Som Eurn said of the native but illegal plant. “Now our village has less [marijuana] for smoking because it is hard to find,” he said.
Steng Som Eurn said police operations in his commune, as well as the rest of Battambang, have all but wiped out what used to be a popular local crop for sale and local consumption.
Steng Som Eurn’s words echoed the boast of officials with the National Authority for Combating Drugs during a workshop Monday in Phnom Penh, in which they announced that domestic marijuana crops have been “eliminated.”
“Cambodia before was called the marijuana plantation country,” NACD Secretary-General Lour Ramin told the workshop. “But now it is no more,” he said.
Lour Ramin said by telephone Tuesday that his comments at the workshop specifically pertained to the shutting down of industrial-sized cannabis crops produced for export, and did not mean that marijuana had been completely eliminated from the country.
“Cambodian people now plant marijuana in their [homes] for cooking and for medicine,” he said, adding that authorities are not overly concerned by such localized use of the plant.
Lars Pedersen, officer in charge of project for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, agreed that Cambodia has made significant progress in curtailing cannabis crops and that police seizures of marijuana have dropped significantly in the last decade.
“Cambodia is not a significant producer and exporter of cannabis. This is a situation that has gradually improved over the years,” he said by telephone. “There is still, of course, some cannabis cultivation going on,” he added.
In 1999 police seized 11,400 kg of marijuana meant for export compared with between 13 kg and 213 kg in 2007, Pedersen said. This dramatic reduction is a strong indicator that the NACD’s boast is valid, he added.
Graham Shaw, technical officer for the World Health Organization, also agreed there has been a significant decrease in cannabis production. As for personal use, Shaw said there are provisions in the country’s drug control law for people who use marijuana for “cultural reasons.”
“But it doesn’t clearly define what that cultural use is,” he said.
In the nation’s battle to combat drugs, personal use of marijuana is considered to be a low priority, Shaw added.
“If someone’s smoking a joint or putting it in their soup, we’re not going to lose sleep over it.”