Morocco is currently discussing a law to allow the export and cultivation of medicinal cannabis. This would be a huge advantage for many small farmers. The draft, however, is controversial.

Rif Mountains Morocco

Morocco could soon be a much more prosperous export country. The parliament is currently considering a bill to legalize cannabis cultivation for medicinal purposes. If the legislation clears the last hurdles, the North African country may become the second country to legalize cannabis within the region. In 2020, Lebanon began legalizing cannabis.

According to several international organizations, such as the UN and European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (UNMDCA), Morocco is the world’s largest producer of cannabis and largest supplier of illegal cannabis products like hashish. Most of these products are brought into the EU through various smuggling routes. As a result Morocco perhaps stands to benefit from legalising cannabis more than any other country in the world.

The conflict between Cannabis and Islam

There are serious political hurdles that prevent the official establishment of a Moroccan cannabis industry. The former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane was in office between 2011 and 2017, he suspended his membership in moderate Islamist Party for Justice and Development (PJD) a few weeks ago. He justified his decision by stating that the PJD had abandoned its resistance to legalization of cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes.

Although the party is the leader of the coalition government, it has suffered some popularity losses during the pandemic.

Several farmer groups from the northern cannabis regions declared that they would like to amend the bill. Their criticism had little impact. Legalization of cannabis cultivation could result in companies moving to areas that are more suitable for traditional agriculture. Farmers in the north are keen to restrict future cannabis cultivation to the areas where the plant is already grown. The law could also reduce their income and prices, they fear. The farmers also called for amnesty for the more than 40,000 people who have been arrested for their illegal cannabis trade.

Agriculture I Growing cannabis for Morocco

Economic Factor: Cannabis cultivation in Morocco. A scene from the northern Rif Mountains

Cannabis as an issue in elections

This bill is controversial. It is clearly a divisive issue in the lead-up to September’s local, regional, and parliamentary elections. It is uncertain whether it will pass into law or not. It has been suggested the bill was a tactic to gain support from voters in economically disadvantaged areas of cannabis cultivation.

“However, this time, it might be different”, says Tom Blickman who is a researcher on international drug policy at Amsterdam’s Transnational Institute. “It is evidently a serious effort. It comes from the government. The royal palace is behind the government.” The opposition has not yet made any similar proposals.

Cannabis Seeds

UN decision as legal base

The current campaign to legalize cannabis began at a meeting of UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (Austria) in December 2020. To allow medicinal use, the World Health Organization recommended that cannabis should be removed from the dangerous drug list. With a narrow majority, the UN Commission accepted the WHO’s recommendation.

This was Abdelouafi Laftit (Moroccan Interior Minister) who used it as legal basis to introduce the April draft law regarding cannabis legalization in Parliament. The bill has been approved by the government. The bill is now approved by the government.

Morocco Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit

Abdelouafi Laftit, the Moroccan Interior Minister, introduced the bill

New investment opportunities are possible

The northern Rif region, which is economically poor, accounts for most of the country’s cannabis. Although cultivation is allowed, farmers are often forced to live in poverty or fear and in an environment that encourages crime.

The bill calls for a national agency to regulate cannabis cultivation and cooperatives of farmers. According to “New Frontier Data”, legalizing cannabis would “provide Morocco with the ideal conditions to attract substantial investment in infrastructure necessary to serve this lucrative market.” This is according to a report from the cannabis market research company, “New Frontier Data”. According to “New Frontier Data”, Moroccan farmers would also be able to trade in other cannabis-related products.

Blickman says, “It would help if Europe was more open to helping build this industry – by importing medical marijuana from Morocco to Germany. This is currently the largest market in medical cannabis.” “A positive view from countries with medical marijuana programs could be helpful.”

Driss Benhima, former director at the Northern Moroccan state development agency and head of numerous studies on cannabis cultivation in the area, believes that if Europe made it easier for countries to import, it would benefit its country.

This would, on the one hand help preserve the natural environment. This environment has been greatly damaged by illegal cannabis production. The government advisor said that it would reduce the “toxic lack trust” between cannabis growers in Morocco and the national public institutions of Morocco. Previous development projects in this region have been hindered by a lack of trust. Benhima said to DW that legalization would change everything. He believes that legalization will bring decent income, social integration, and protection of the environment.

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