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Legalization of Cannabis Cultivation in Morocco: The State in Alliance With Capital Against the Land and Small Farmers


Introduction

On the 13th of March 2021, Morocco ratified a draft bill to regulate cannabis cultivation in the areas of northern Morocco; namely Ketama, Targuist, Sanhaja (in the province of Al Hoceima), Taounate and Ghafsai (the province of Taounate), Bni Ahmed and Bab Berred (the province of  Chefchaouen), in Targuist (the province of Ouezzane), Bni Hassan and Bni Said (the province of Tetouan) [1].

To begin with, cannabis legalization and hashish production is not a new subject in Morocco. It is an issue that has frequently provoked long-standing debate. However, the actual decision-makers seem to be more determined than ever to put this law into action, especially after the recent UN removal of cannabis from its list of most dangerous drugs. Morocco is considered amongst the world’s top producers and suppliers of cannabis and hashish that is widely consumed in Europe. According to EU Drug Report (2018), three-quarters of the total amount of cannabis seized during 2016 in Europe were trafficked from Morocco which reveals that there is a complete production cycle de facto in the country, including all phases of cultivation, processing, marketing, and exporting. There is sufficient data that this production cycle has been in motion for so long. This report will give some insights into the historical background of cannabis production in Morocco, its areas of cultivation, and growing seasons. It will also present several growers’ views on cannabis cultivation and their take on the new bill.

Historical  Background

There is a consensus among historians that cannabis has been cultivated in the area of Kutama, amid the Rif Mountains, since the fifteenth century in the wake of the Arab migration to the region. During his visit to the area at the end of the 19th century, the French explorer “Molieras” reported that cannabis was produced in the tribal area of Bni Khaled in very limited quantities and mainly for the sake of local consumption while only a small portion was intended for sale in other regions of the country. In 1912, Morocco was divided into two zones; one under Spanish rule while the other was controlled by the French. In the Spanish protectorate of northern Morocco, cannabis cultivation was allowed in certain areas of the Rif mountains. 

In 1906, the Algeciras Conference granted the Régie Marocaine des Kifs et Tabacs, a multinational company dominated mainly by French capital, the monopoly over the trade of tobacco and cannabis in the country. The company was based in Tangier wherein cannabis and tobacco used to be processed while Kif production used to be carried out in a factory in Casablanca. In 1926, the French occupation allowed growing cannabis in an area to the north of Fes. This policy lasted for 3 years only and was part and parcel of General Lyautey’s policy to win over the tribes close to the uprising to isolate the revolution in the Rif. The company henceforth managed to control lands where tobacco and cannabis were cultivated by making farmers sign contracts dictating the prices, quality measures, and processing methods of the yields. Yet, cannabis under cultivation in the Rif areas remained out of the company’s control.

The ban on cannabis production in the area under the French colonial rule dates back to December 22, 1932. In compliance with its international obligations, the French administration decided to prohibit the production and smuggling of cannabis in 1916. Thus, the decree (dahir) issued in 1932 banned all cannabis cultivation except for the area under the company’s control in  Al Haouz (the plain of Marrakesh region) and Gharb (the plain of the Kenitra region). Eventually, the decree of April 24th, 1954, came to generalize the ban on the cultivation and consumption of cannabis in all areas of Morocco under the French colonial rule.

Following Morocco’s alleged independence in 1956, the ban on cannabis was extended all over the country including areas that were ruled by Spain, stirring great resentment among thousands of smallholder farmers who used to benefit from Spain’s approval of cannabis plantation. To keep the situation at bay,  Morocco was prompted to allow cannabis cultivation within a limited area at the foot of Mount Tidigine near Azilal (Al Hoceima Province). Then the government decided to buy the entire production only to have it incinerated. However, this policy was abandoned after 3 years due to the difficult financial circumstances the state was undergoing.

In 1958, Because of the extension of the forestry project applied in Morocco to the north of the country, the rise of unemployment in the region, as well the adoption of a unified official currency which drove prices up, a revolt was ignited in the Rif but was met with severe repression by the Moroccan army in the spring of 1959. The turmoil compelled the Moroccan state to turn a blind eye to cannabis cultivation as a part of the illicit economy on which the inhabitants of the Rif mountains depend to maintain their livelihoods. Accordingly, despite the extension of the 1954 decreeto the region,cannabis cultivation was condoned in certain tribal areas of the Rif. Nevertheless, the areas under cultivation were contained within limits and great care was taken to keep the cannabis trade covert.

Apparently, the subsequent expansion of cannabis growing to new areas, the production of cannabis-derived products (particularly hashish and oil), the double increase in amounts produced, along with the attempts to find access to external markets resulted from the confluence of two primary factors; The growing demand for cannabis from Europe since the 1970s, and the socio-economics grievances the local population had to weather in absence of any economic alternatives to secure them a basic subsistence.

It is worth noting that during the 1960s, many regions in Morocco were characterized by massive rural migration towards the cities either due to the failure of subsistence farming or the introduction of machinery in several agricultural lands. Consequently, thousands left the Rif towards Europe to work in the mining sector in Belgium, the construction sector in the Netherlands, or the French automobile industry.

However, the economic crisis during the late 1970s in tandem with the structural adjustment programs in the mid-eighties almost put an end to the narrow escape of migration to Europe because migration-control policies were brought into effect. As for the smallholder farmers of northern Morocco who used traditional farming techniques and yet received no state aid and had no access to credit, competition with modern agriculture and the imported food products was blatantly lopsided and unfair. Hence, growing cannabis was the alternative that gradually attracted them especially with the steady demand from Europe.

This period witnessed a rapid spread of plantations from the historic heartland of cannabis cultivation in Sanhaja (Ketama and its environs) to new areas in Ghmara (Bni Smih, Ghezin, Bni Mansour…) and the region of Jbala (Bni Hmed), all the way to the east of Al Hoceima (Bni Boufrah, Bni Mesdouj).

Early in 2000, cultivation expanded farther to reach new fertile lands far from the traditional cannabis zone. This expansion gradually made an entire area entangled in a precarious situation characterized by a dominant monoculture leading the city of Chefchaouen and its suburbs to lose their agriculture and food self-sufficiency. The fields owned by many families in the areas of Ghamara and Akhmas have become subject to a dominant cannabis monocropping after they were previously sown with various crops and exploited for livestock-breeding.

Estimation of the Total Area Under Cultivation[1]

The region of northern Morocco, the historic heartland area of cannabis cultivation, covers about 20,000 square kilometers. It is subdivided into five regions crossed east to west by the Rif mountain chain with the highest peak of 2456 meters. Because the region is notorious for its rugged terrain, erosion problems, and considerable yet irregular rainfalls, the soil remains very unproductive and vulnerable.

The population density in this region is about 124 inhabitants/Km² which is three times higher than the national average (37 inhabitants/km²)Cannabis acreage is estimated to reach 134, 000 hectares within the 14000 square kilometers of the entire region covered by the research. That amounts to 10% of the total area and 27% of the arable land in the region, yet it still makes up only 1.5% of the total arable land in Morocco (8.7 million hectares). 86% of cannabis cultivation is concentrated in the northern provinces and is distributed as follows:

Emanating from the “traditional” production areas within certain rural communities in the Rif where cannabis has been grown for generations since the 15th century, the cultivation of the plant has widely spread over the past twenty years.

Cannabis Yields

The yields of cannabis grown in heathlands are largely determined by the amount of rainfall, even if it remains mostly irregular and unpredictable. Though there’re perhaps several fertile and well-irrigated cannabis fields that allow for higher yields reaching 1500/2000 kg per hectare sometimes, yet the type of these fields is very rare given the relative scarcity of irrigation in the area. The average yield of raw cannabis in irrigated plantations is 638 kg per hectare while it is half less in heathlands.

Cannabis Production

Production of raw cannabis is estimated at 47,000 tons taking into account that 43% out of it is produced in Chefchaouen solely. The province of Al Hoceima contributes to the amount with about 25%, then Taounate with 21%, Larache with 7%, and Tetouan with 4% of the production in total. 

The Production of Cannabis Resin (Hashish)

The transformation capacity of Moroccan row cannabis into cannabis resin (hashish) amounts to 3080 tons. The number of hectares under cultivation indicates the widespread plantation of cannabis during recent decades insofar as it’s become an income-generating activity. However, cannabis cultivation takes a heavy toll on the ecosystem as farmers overexploit the soil and overuse fertilizers.

Cannabis Cycle and Processing to Hashish

Irrigated cannabis plantations are harvested quite late, in early July/August in Larache city and much later in the rest of the provinces. The harvesting might be delayed till the end of September or the beginning of October in some areas within the province of Al Hoceima wherein cultivating the fields is often belated. Therefore, cannabis’s agricultural cycle takes up to 5 or 6 months depending upon the soil (whether it is irrigated or fallow), the agricultural area, and climatic conditions (Rainfall, elevation, and slopes).  In certain cases, farmers on the same field may decide to extend their sowing period to better take advantage of laborers during the harvest season.

Fall and spring grains always grow ripe before cannabis harvest; since early May/June for fall grains and June/July for summer grains. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this rule especially in mountainous or highly humid areas. Harvesting may last until July/August up to September, but one can easily identify cannabis as almost the only plantations that remain green till the end of June whether in irrigated lands or heathlands. The same applies to legumes harvesting which generally starts in April and finishes before cannabis is harvested with several exceptions also in certain areas where humidity is typically high. In irrigated areas, it is common to find corn fields and cannabis plantations side by side.

Extraction of  Hashish from Cannabis

1-Cannabis resin planted in irrigated lands or heaths.

2Post-harvest drying

3Storing cannabis buds “Meshmoum”

4Threshing/Sieving

5Recovering the powdery “chira”

6Pressing and flailing the dried buds

7Collecting the sifted trichomes

The Smuggling of Hashish

Statistical data provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (Based on a study about global trends in illicit drugs, 2003) shows that most of the hashish seizures in Africa occurred in Morocco which points by extension to the considerable hash production in the country. In 2001, Morocco ranked third in the world’s largest hashish seizures (35.61 tons) with 7% of the total amount seized worldwide. According to a report conducted by the New Frontier Data Foundation, cannabis in Africa is solely grown in Morocco and is smuggled to North African countries, Spain, and the Netherlands through the northern part of the country. The same report indicates that 62% of cannabis resin seized in many African countries in 2018 was produced in Morocco.

The youth living in cannabis-growing areas strive for stable and decent working opportunities and usually embark on alternative economic activities but find no support from the state. Whereas most politicians looking to advance their careers try to boost their voter bases through selling the youth mere illusions. With regard to this critical situation, young people living in these regions are left with no alternatives but smuggling hashish to survive the horrendous grievances of poverty.

Women’s Role in Cannabis Production

It is worth mentioning that women significantly contribute to the cultivation and production of cannabis. It has become common for them to go to the fields alone because men evade appearing due to arrest warrants against them. Taking all risks, women are therefore bound to cover for men in the fields, including underage females who often spend long hours taking care of cannabis plantations for nothing in return.

Women’s role in the processing of hashish is pivotal insofar as they take part in every phase of the production cycle. From harvesting and drying to sieving, they work the same as men and give up even more taking into account their low wages compared to their male counterparts.

But despite their important roles in the fields and all challenges they face, women have to endure greater repercussions than men same as in every other activity. If male growers can eventually deal with the authorities and warrants, women in consequence are hindered with extra patriarchal abuses such as societal contempt and harassment in the fields in addition to domestic work and caregiving tasks awaiting them upon returning home.

The Legalization Of Cannabis in Morocco

After years-long negotiations on the issue, a draft bill submitted by the Morrocan Ministry of Interior regarding legalizing cannabis cultivation and production for medical and industrial use was finally adopted. The purpose of the bill, according to decision-makers, is to develop a strategy in line with the international law’s gradual progression from prohibiting any use of cannabis to licensing its use for medical and industrial purposes, and in compliance with the World Health Organization’s recommendations following the change in cannabis classification. On that basis, the state of Morocco has a record of previous changes in its approach adopting laws aiming at authorizing the cultivation, processing, manufacturing, exportation, and importation of cannabis. All within a regulatory framework to keep control over its various uses following the aforementioned global orientation geared towards maximizing profits at the expense of nature and humans.

Bill 13.21 contains 54 articles based on which the Moroccan state will embark on regulating this cultivation while smallholder farmers’ prospects are still largely obscure. Suspicion surrounding this particular aspect is very legitimate given that many previous experiences of cannabis legislation were to the detriment of the grower’s interests.  So what do smallholder farmers think about this law? Especially taking into consideration articles proposed by decision-makers that expose in concrete terms their class bias in favor of capital and multinationals.

Smallholder Farmers, Cannabis Cultivation, and Bill 13.21

Testimonies

After interviewing a group of cannabis growers in northern Morocco, we managed to get a general outlook on the subject.

M.A  “cannabis grower, said that their situation speaks for itself as they can barely make ends meet thanks to cannabis yields. Growers are required to afford huge expenses to spend on seeds, laborers to plow fields, and buy good-quality fertilizers. Plus money needed for harvesting and processing cannabis into hashish.”
S.A who is living in Ouezzane Zoumi, a town known for cannabis plantation, said “ a smallholder farmer does not make huge profits from their cultivation because the plantation entails many material obstacles. Farmers are also burdened with many expenses. He emphasized that the profits of cannabis cultivation fall into the hands of landowners and smuggling barons.”

As for the content of  Bill 13.21, the majority of smallholder farmers are left in the dark in absence of any communication initiatives by lawmakers. Farmers are therefore in utter confusion over how to react to this law and find no explanation except for some clarifications and improvisations offered by several educated citizens. Even though educated people in the region are very few, those who embarked on communication with the local population have in effect spoken their disapproval of the law highlighting a number of detriments to the interests of smallholder farmers which might endanger their prospects in the business.

It’s noteworthy that the population of Issaguen, on the outskirts of Talarouak, held several public gatherings where activists explain the content of Bill 13.21. These gatherings herald waves of mass demonstrations in the areas that might be affected by the legislation in absence of any viable economic alternatives for the population. The crux of the matter, therefore, is smallholder farmers who are the most vulnerable in the business and will still be relegated to the margins by this project. 

Major Dates in Cannabis Timeline

1890: The Sultan made the first attempt to legalize cannabis cultivation.

1906: Following the Algeciras Conference, importation and exportation of cannabis were coordinated between the Foreign diplomatic committees and Makhzen.

1915: Decree issued in 1915 legalizing and regulating the cultivation of cannabis.

1935: Decree in the Spanish zone restricting the cultivation of cannabis to the areas of Bani Khalid and Kutama.

1954: A decree to prohibit all cultivation of cannabis in areas under French rule. 

1956: Extending the ban on cannabis cultivation throughout Moroccan except for the historic zones.

2021: Adoption of the draft bill to legalize cannabis cultivation

Conclusion

The debate over cannabis legalization is as old as its cultivation in the county. Through its historical timeline, the cultivation of cannabis in Morocco has been met either with approval or rejection by every successive “facade” government, but the plant proved steadfast against all odds and never left the fields in northern Morocco. Despite the state ban on cannabis cultivation, it eventually failed to extract it all together especially in some Northern areas of the country where this cultivation provides a source of income for a large number of Moroccan families

The small farmers’ resolute resistance to all attempts to eradicate cannabis cultivation and their persistent rebellion against the authorities are justified in consideration of the Moroccan state”s failure to provide any solutions or viable economic alternatives that would secure them a basic income for the daily needs of their families.

In sum, the legalization of cannabis and the discussions it aroused in the Moroccan parliament dismissed the population’s sovereignty over their lands skirting around the potential implications on the vulnerable conditions of small farmers. In addition to the neglected population, the legislation kept considerations of soil preservation and the ecosystem out of scope, for all that lawmakers take into account are the interests of big landowners and wealthy investors in strict adherence to the profit motive at the heart of the capitalist system.

 By Ibrahim Hatimi

Translated by Hamza Ben Jaafar

The article in Arabic


References

[1]الفصل التاسع من مشروع 13.21  [Section 9 of Bikk 13.21]

[2]www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/8585/20181816_TDAT18001ESN_PDF.pdf

[3] UNODC (2003). Morocco. Enquête sur le cannabis 2003 [Investigation on Cannabis]. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna

[4]نفسه (Ibid)

[5]المرجع نفسه (Ibid)

  • قانون 13.21 المصادق عليه من طرف البرلمان المغربي. [Bill 13.21 validated by the parliament ]

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