In Morocco, cannabis and all activities and business associated with it are illegal. Those caught smoking, selling, buying, or distributing cannabis could face a 10-year jail term. This despite the country being the top supplier of cannabis in the world.
Yes, you heard that right. Cannabis is totally banned in a country that carries the title of being the world’s largest producer of cannabis and hashish. That is according to a 2017 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The World Drug Report also states that Morocco produces some 38,000 tons of cannabis annually, with the majority exported to Europe and to other North African states. Moroccan cannabis is also considered one of the best in the world.
Morocco’s cannabis culture and history
Between the 15th and 18th centuries, the Rif mountain region in Morocco’s far north became a well-known center for cannabis production. The early production of cannabis was for local use and it was grown in gardens and orchards.
In 1890, Sultan Hassan I had instituted stringent regulations on the production and trade of cannabis, but he also conferred cannabis cultivation privileges on a number of Rif tribes. In the 1950s, these special cultivation rights enjoyed by the tribes were reconfirmed. However, when Morocco gained its independence in 1956, King Mohammed V banned cannabis nationwide.
While cannabis was now prohibited, there are those who still produce small quantities of cannabis.
In the 1960s and 1970s, due to the influx of and the massive demand from tourists, as well as smugglers, the people started adopting larger-scale production techniques. It is believed that it was also during this period that hashish production was introduced to the country. Hashish or kief is commonly smoked by locals with Black Tobacco using a “Sebsi Pipe.”
Kief is a fine powder from dried resin glands found on cannabis leaves. Kief contains a high concentration of THC, the psychoactive chemical that causes high or euphoric feelings.
The United Nations estimates that tens of thousands of Moroccans in the Rif region rely on the cultivation of cannabis for a living. Cannabis is transported across to Spain and then travels by land to France, then Italy and the Netherlands.
There are still severe consequences for this kind of operation. In fact, many farmers have reported being blackmailed for their silence by gendarmeries. Hashish sells for about $8 per kilo locally, so the big profits go to smugglers and European buyers who, in turn, sell the product for €5-10 per gram. Today, however, smuggling has become a little less risky process, thanks to the decriminalization of the product in neighboring countries.
Is the decriminalization of Cannabis in Morocco on the cards?
The simple answer to this question is yes. The decriminalization of cannabis has been on the table for quite some time. There are politicians in the country who acknowledge the benefits of cannabis to the national economy, and there are also health officials who are interested in its medicinal properties.
The Party of Authenticity and Modernity had drafted a proposal in 2014 that would license and regulate the cultivation of cannabis and redirect the output towards producing industrial and medicinal cannabis products, while still keeping the consumption of cannabis for recreational purposes illegal.
Moreover, parties that support the cannabis reform in the country noted that the legalized production and consumption of cannabis will contribute to Morocco’s GDP growth by over 4.5 percentage points annually.
The proposal is opposed by Islamist political parties for the reason that some imams compare cannabis to alcohol.
Meanwhile, farmers are on the fence or are skeptical about this out of fear that their crop would be taken by the state to be used in processing facilities.
For now, it remains to be seen how cannabis decriminalization efforts by certain political parties will go.