The Moroccan parliament voted to legalize the local cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes. This is a potential victory for marginalized farmers in the world’s leading exporter of the drug.
In Morocco, where tens of thousands of people live from the illegal cultivation of marijuana, legalization has been discussed for about a decade. Proponents say this would allow farmers to sell to the government rather than drug traffickers.
They found a powerful new ally in the Home Office after 2017, when a major spill of unrest in the underdeveloped northern region of Rif exposed long-ignored socio-economic ills. Rif makes up a large portion of the 183 square kilometers that are planted with cannabis in the North African kingdom, and there is hope that legalization will ease tensions by ending the refugee status of local farmers and providing economic facilitation.
A total of 119 lawmakers voted in favor of legalization and 48 against the Chamber’s Finance and Economic Committee Chairman Abdellah Bouanou, by telephone. His Justice and Development Party (PJD) – Islamists who lead the coalition government of the kingdom – voted against the law.
King Mohammed VI Must approve legislation before it can come into force. Recreational use, sale and production remain illegal.
The global market for medicinal cannabis and cannabis products has boomed in recent years as more and more countries abandon the total ban on the plant, the derivatives of which can be used for therapeutic purposes.
The legal changes are likely to increase farmers’ income from growing the potent plant by around a third to around 543 million US dollars by 2028, the ministry said in the bill. That number is still a fraction of the street value of Morocco’s illicit trade in processed cannabis resin, which amounts to more than $ 13 billion for exports to Europe alone, according to the minutes of the debate in Parliament.
“The situation in the Rif is unstable,” Noureddine Mediane, a lawmaker from the region, told parliament last month, describing the drug as “green gold”.
“We want these farmers to grow their cannabis with their heads held high,” he said. “Should we also ban the cultivation of raisins, figs and barley if they are used to make alcohol and beer?”
The changes will end the legal limbo in which thousands of farmers end up on police wanted lists while the fields of narcotics crops are so abundantly cultivated that they border the winding main road that runs through the mostly mountainous reef. The kingdom “remains the most cited country of origin for cannabis resin in the world,” according to the latest report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In a statement, the Justice and Development Party said the legislation had been proposed without proper consultation, including with people in cannabis-growing areas, and was “mired in electoral considerations” ahead of the September general election. It has been questioned whether the changes would help fight poverty in Rif, where discontent is also implicated in disputes over ethnic identity and political freedom.