Kazakhstan Wants to Attract Big Pharma to Its 'Cannabis Klondike'

Despite a heavy-handed campaign against drug trafficking and related crime in the country, one Kazakh lawmaker thinks it's time to cash in on some 140,000 stubborn hectares of wild cannabis that can be found around Kazakhstan. Darigha Nazarbaeva, the eldest daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, proposed Monday that the country lease some of its treasured cannabis fields to international pharmaceutical companies.

"I suggest we review our attitude to cannabis," Dariga Nazarbayeva reportedly told the Kazakh parliament.

The Chu valley, which is shared between southern Kazakhstan and northern Kyrgyzstan, is home to some of the most infamous -- and potent -- pot in the world. Supposedly rivaling even Afghanistan's potent weed, the robust cultivation scene has generated some unique rituals around the plant. Just one harvesting ritual in the region involves a person riding naked on a horse through cannabis plants, until the bodies of both are covered in a thin layer of sweat and pot resin. The substance is scraped off, molded into ultra-concentrated marijuana bars called "plastilin," and then packed into a regular cigarette. The country's pot is also a favorite subject of at least one Kazakh rap group, who has penned such poetic lyrics as "The champions of smoking kick-ass chronic / Live right here in Kazakhstan, that's not ironic."

After aggressive Soviet efforts to eradicate the high-THC cannabis, the plants have only come back stronger and remain the target of campaigns by the authorities to combat drug trafficking and related crime. Most anti-drug efforts in Kazakhstan are focused on Afghan heroin. About ten percent of the opium that is meant to pass through the country on its way from Afghanistan to Russia ends up in Kazakhstan. But marijuana remains a unique problem because of its accessibility in the region and its unusual stubbornness. A 2012 Kazakh government report on the drug situation in the country noted that although registers users of opioids and stimulants had decreased since 2007, the number of cannabinoid users had increased.

That stubbornness might be behind solutions like the one proposed by Darigha Nazarbaeva and others like it. Last week, a leading narcologist and former presidential candidate in Kyrgyzstan, with which Kazakhstan shares its THC-rich "Cannabis Klondike," proposed a pilot program for the legal production of cannabis in the country. In Kyrgyzstan, too, the drug has become woven into the social fabric. It is estimated that as many as two thirds of all families in the country's Issyk-Kul and Chu regions harvest marijuana.

Kazakh Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov seemed open to Nazarbaeva's  idea, citing the vastness of Chu Valley as evidence of a need for a more creative solution. "You can't just seal off these 140,000 hectares of land," he said.

The idea that pot might become a boom industry for Kazakhstan some time in the future certainly isn't outrageous. With legalization movements afoot in the United States, investors have been busy trying to figure out how to cash in on what has been called a 21st century Green Rush. Surely there are few better marketing opportunities available for the crop than the sale of marijuana harvested off of the naked body of a Kazakh man. 


National Security

Why No One Will Ever Be Blamed for Benghazi

A Senate committee released on Wednesday its long-awaited findings on the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Its findings are a case study in how no one and everyone in the State Department, the U.S. intelligence community, and the White House has been held responsible for an attack that has fueled a political firestorm in Washington -- and left four Americans dead.

The report principally spreads blame for the attack across the State Department and the CIA and shows how the department was slow and nearly negligent in upgrading security procedures at its Benghazi outpost. It documents in detail the repeated security warnings generated by American intelligence agencies that the security situation in eastern Libya was deteriorating during the fall of 2012 and that the likelihood of an attack against U.S. personnel in Benghazi had significantly increased.

Despite these repeated warnings, the report, a product of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, did not find a specific, tactical warning that might have predicted an attack the claimed the life of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other U.S. personnel.

"The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya -- to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets -- and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission," the Senate committee said in a press release.

In concluding that the attack could have been prevented, the report lambastes both the State Department and the CIA for failing to adequately communicate with one another. The CIA comes under fire for failing to disclose to the regional commander, General Carter Ham, that the agency had put in place a facility for its personnel -- the so-called annex -- in the restive city. The State Department, meanwhile, failed to take seriously repeated warnings about the deteriorating security conditions in Benghazi. The department is harshly criticized for failing to install adequate security measures at its Benghazi compound. That building lacked adequate perimeter defenses, hardened doors, and while it had been provided with additional video cameras for surveillance purposes, they were never installed. Notably, the report reveals that the CIA took steps to upgrade security at the annex while the State Department did little to harden its facility, which was no more than a few miles from the agency's building.

The report does address in detail the most politically explosive aspect of the Benghazi attack, talking points which the Obama's administration's Republican critics were doctored to downplay the terrorist origins of the attack and whether the attack had been spontaneous or had been long in the works. Regarding the planning of the attacks, the report appears to cautiously endorse the finds of the U.S. intelligence community that the attacks "were deliberate and organized, but that their lethality and efficacy did not necessarily indicate extensive planning."

While the report notes that there is little evidence to corroborate the notion that specific intelligence predicting the attack ever existed, it argues that, among other things, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies should step up their monitoring of open source and social media in order to prevent such attacks in the future.

More disturbingly, the report also reveals that at least 15 people who have in some way assisted the FBI in their investigation in the aftermath of the attack have been killed. Their killing, the report states, underscores "the lawless and chaotic circumstances in eastern Libya" and claims that it "is unclear whether their killings were related to the Benghazi investigation."

The report, which broadly blames the American intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracies, does not make clear whom within these agencies bears responsibility for failing to act on security warnings in Benghazi.

The report, which broadly blames the American intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracies, does not make clear whom within these agencies bears responsibility for failing to act on security warnings in Benghazi. In that way, despite the report's many revelations, it tells a story that was already known.

Read the report:

U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: Review of the terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghaz...