Morocco obtains a legal cannabis sector

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Morocco, the world’s largest illicit cannabis producer, finally got a legalized cannabis trading industry, thanks to a law introduced by the Conservative government. The new law is designed to brighten the day for small traditional cannabis growers in the marginalized mountains of the Rif.

But the program is export-oriented. “Recreational” use is explicitly prohibited. And it remains to be seen whether there will be a significant relaxation of the increasingly militarized application of cannabis.

Organic Bill 13.21, which legalizes the cultivation and use of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes, was approved On June 15, the House of Representatives of Morocco, with a vote of 61 to 25. A week earlier, approved the Upper House of Councilors by a vote of 119 to 48.

The passage ended months of resentment in Parliament, from Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani of the Conservative Justice. & Development Party (PJD) introduced the bill on March 11th.

This meant a radical break for a party that had long opposed any softening of cannabis laws. He PJD cited a growing international consensus that hardline policies have failed.

“The community is increasingly aware that the pure repressive approach adopted by the global drug control system has limited alternative development programs and has failed to address the economic, social and environmental problems facing rural producers at this plant. “said the party. he said in a statement after the presentation of the bill.

Stealing the cannabis issue

Four years ago, opposition lawmakers in the Rif mountains, then besieged by a popular uprising, introduced a cannabis legalization bill, but Morocco’s political establishment quickly moved to override it. This establishment is currently defined by the PJD, who has ruled since 2011, and the monarchy, with King Muhammad WE retaining much power, including the right to appoint or remove prime ministers.

With the general election scheduled for September 2021, it is believed that Conservative Prime Minister El Othmani is trying to steal the cannabis issue from the opposition. But it has clearly cost him support within his own party. Lots of PJD parliamentarians joined the Islamist bloc to vote against OB 13.21 in both houses. And when the bill was introduced in March, the PJDmain light in Parliament: former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane – he resigned from the party in protest.

Meetings at which members of El Othmani’s cabinet tried to introduce lawmakers to the bill warmed up, reported the local press. Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit stressed that the bill does not decriminalize (much less legalize) the “recreational” use of cannabis. He portrayed legal cannabis as the key to removing the Rif region from its economic isolation.

And, in fact, the government has, paradoxically, more support from its progressive and secular opposition than its own bloc in Parliament.

Representative Omar Balafrej of the Federation of the Democratic Left hailed the legalization measure as overdue. “No development is possible without laws that adapt to reality. Since the independence of Morocco, this issue has had to be resolved, “he said.

And Moulay Hicham Mhajri of Authenticity & Modernity Party (PAM) expressed exasperation at the intransigence of PJD lawmakers: “How can a majority party oppose a text adopted by the government?”

“Cannabis is everything that grows here”

In the mountains of the Rif, the steep, remote and quiet region, which ethnically different (non-Arab) Berber farmers have long been the center of hashish in Morocco, opinion seems to be divided on the new law . His concerns include a lack of provisions for the expiration of past sentences or the revocation of pending arrest warrants. The law also does not explicitly legalize hashish production.

Above all, the emphasis on exports and the lack of provisions for a domestic market for adult use raises fears that some well-capitalized operations may come to dominate the legal market.

Farmer Mohamed El Mourabit, in the mountain village of Ketama, Al Hoceima province, said Reuters of his hopes that the new law will tear down the “wall of fear” in the region. “We’re fed up with fear and secrecy,” he said. “We want a dignified life.”

He stressed that ecology and cultural heritage are forcing the traditional cannabis economy. “We have tried to grow cereals, but the … yield [was] it is not enough to live. Cannabis is all that grows here. “

Political economy of how i chira

Cannabis was officially banned by Moroccan authorities in 1954, but its cultivation still provides a livelihood for some 60,000 families, according to official estimates (probably with low balls). The United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC) says approximately 47,000 acres of the Rif are devoted to cannabis. It is about a third of the amount in 2003, thanks to strong government crackdowns in recent years. However, according to the UNODCmost recent annual World Drug Report, Morocco retained its status as the world’s leading producer of illicit cannabis.

Cannabis in Morocco is generally consumed in the form of how – the fine powder of THC-rich crystals shaken from the buds. Hashish, locally called chira, is basically how concentrated and solidified by pressure, heating, and sometimes with a solvent or binder, originally sweating from the hands of hashish manufacturers, though now more often with ethanol. This is the form used for illicit exports.

Morocco is the main source of hashish in the illicit market worldwide, and especially in Europe. Revenue has been estimated at $ 7 billion annually, making hashish the largest source of foreign exchange in the country. Of course, criminal networks and intermediaries absorb most of this income, but what makes them return to the Rif Berber farmers is critical to their economic survival.

In an attempt to end the cultivation of licensed cannabis dominated by the agro-industry with capital letters on the coastal plains (which now produces olives, citrus and wine grapes), the new law limits production in six provinces, all in the Rif: Al Hoceima, Chefchaouen, Ouezzane, Taounate, Larache and Tetouan.

Back to shore

In 2017 popular uprising in the Rif seems to have been a turning point, when the authorities realized that forceful application in the region only fueled the riots.

In 2005, the Moroccan authorities eradicated 15,160 hectares of cannabis, according to official figures. In 2011, in the middle local protests related to the wider Arab revolution, there were reports of helicopters spraying the peoples of the Rif with pesticides, apparently to end cannabis crops, increasing the spectrum of a convergence of drug application and counterinsurgency, as seen in Colombia.

Fortunately, Morocco has withdrawn from this limit. According to the UNODC‘s World Drug Report 2020, Morocco only eradicated 523 hectares in 2017 and towards 2018 (the most recent year in which figures are given). A constitutional reform in response to the 2011 protests also granted greater rights to the Berbers, officially placing their language, Tamazight, on an equal footing with Arabic.

But the militarized repression of smuggling routes has been on the rise. Barely a week goes by without reports of huge drags of hashish, usually from the Moroccan armed forces.

The application continues

The Royal Navy of Morocco arrested three Spanish smugglers with a ton of hashish after intercepting their ship in front of the Mediterranean port of Ksar al Saghir, News from Morocco reported on June 9, in a typical recent case. The report cited official figures of 217 metric tons of cannabis confiscated in 2020.

On the 18th of May News from Morocco more disastrously, he noted a seizure of 1.26 tons by the troops of the Directorate General of National Security (DGSN) near the town of Laayoune, with two men said to be part of an arrested “criminal network.” The report does not mention that Laayoune is the regional capital of Western Sahara, a disputed territory occupied by Morocco, where a pro-independence movement has encouraged local protests and armed insurgency over the years.

Morocco seized Western Sahara after the former colonial ruler Spain withdrew in 1975, initially dividing it with Mauritania until it withdrew in 1980. Today it has officially annexed the entire territory. However, only one country recognizes the claim of territory by Morocco: the United States, thanks to decision taken by the Trump administration. The Royal Armed Forces of Morocco have recently been reinforcing their presence in Western Sahara in the alleged interest in intercepting drugs and other types of smuggling, pointing to another case in which drug use and counterinsurgency appear to coincide.

The prudent reception of legal cannabis can represent a real turning point for Morocco. There is no doubt that the North African constitutional monarchy has taken a significant step forward with Organic Bill 13.21. But the progressive opposition forces that made the law possible will first have to exercise vigilance to make sure it is enforced with a true sense of fairness and inclusion.


Bill Weinberg is an award-winning 30-year veteran journalist in the fields of human rights, ecology and drug policy. Formerly a news editor for High Times magazine, he now produces the websites CounterVortex.org i Global Earnings Report.

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