Cannabis resin world capital Morocco is struggling to reconcile its historical but illegal cannabis production region with the emerging legal market.
According to the United Nations (UN) Office on Drugs and Crime, the northern Rif Mountains region is the world’s top producer of cannabis resin. Cannabis has been tolerated in Morocco’s kingdom for hundreds of years, however it has been illegal in all forms since the county’s independence in 1956.
In 2021, with a goal to improve poverty-stricken regions in Morocco, the kingdom’s ruling party decided to officially approve Law 13-21, a bill legalizing the production of cannabis for industrial, medicinal, and cosmetic purposes in the three provinces of the Rif while also creating a National Regulation Agency for Cannabis Activities (ANRAC) to monitor the production of cannabis.
Morocco launched its cannabis industry last October by issuing the country’s first 10 permits to businesses to produce cannabis.
Under the law, farmers in Morocco’s northern mountainous areas who organize into collectives will gradually be permitted to cultivate cannabis to fill the needs of the legal market. Abdeluafi Laftit, the Interior Minister of the Alaouite kingdom, Morocco’s reigning monarchy, said the legalization of cannabis is part of the government’s plan to create new “development opportunities,” according to a report.
Al Jazeera reports that black market cannabis production in the Rif mountains is thriving more than ever before, and tourists continue to flock to the area because of it. The mountainous and fertile area borders Tangier to the west, and runs along the Mediterranean to the north. Hippies have been traveling there for generations to get their hands on Moroccan hash.
“After the independence of Morocco, the hippies came to the mountains and taught us how to harvest the cannabis plants into cannabis resin [hashish],” Mourad, a father of six, told Al Jazeera. “Personally, I learned from my family and from my friends.”
But despite efforts to loosen laws in the area surrounding cannabis production, old habits die hard, and locals say illegal cannabis is more profitable.
“Official representatives came to the village in March to discuss the new bill with us and take the names of the people who might be interested,” Mourad said. “For my part, I do not really know what I am going to do. If I am forced to switch to legal production, I will, but if most of my neighbours continue to produce cannabis illegally, I will do like them.”
“Of course, I don’t like living in fear, and I would rather have a legal activity. At the same time, I honestly don’t think most farmers are going to follow the bill because we don’t feel like it will benefit us. But I am aware this might be my last year producing cannabis illegally. For my own sake, I will probably have to switch to legal production soon,” he added.
According to data from the Ministry of Interior given to the Agence France-Presse news in 2013, at least 700,000 people—including 90,000 families—lived off the production of cannabis in Morocco.
Al Jazeera reports that the Republic of the Rif was established by Abdelkrim Khattabi in 1921. For about 100 years, the Rif people are reported to be hostile towards the Moroccan state, saying they are left out of Morocco’s economic development.
“Switching to a legal production of cannabis would make us lose money because it is the government that is going to set the prices,” Anouar, a local in Bab Taza told Al Jazeera.
“Producing illegally is not that dangerous when you have a trustworthy network of buyers. For our part, we sell the cannabis to four family friends only, whom we have known for years, and they deal with bringing it to other cities in the country and to Europe,” Anouar says.