The Moroccan parliament has voted in favor of legalizing local cannabis cultivation for medical and industrial purposes, a possible victory for marginalized farmers of the world’s largest exporter of the drug.
Morocco, where tens of thousands of people live off the illegal cultivation of marijuana, has been debating legalization for about a decade, with proponents saying it would allow farmers to sell to the government rather than to drug dealers.
After 2017, they found a powerful new ally in the Interior Ministry when major unrest in the underdeveloped northern region of Rif exposed long-ignored socio-economic grievances. Rif makes up a large portion of the 183 square miles that are grown cannabis in the North African kingdom, and there is hope that legalization will ease tensions by ending the refugee status of farmers there and providing economic relief.
A total of 119 MPs voted in favor of legalization and 48 against, said the chairman of the chamber’s finance and economics committee, Abdellah Bouanou, by phone. His Justice and Development Party (PJD) – Islamists who lead the kingdom’s coalition government – voted against the law.
King Mohammed VI must approve the law before it can come into force. Recreational use, sales and production remain illegal.
The world market for medicinal cannabis and cannabis-related products has boomed in recent years as more and more countries move away from a total ban on the plant whose derivatives can be used for therapeutic purposes.
The legislative changes are expected to increase farmers’ income from growing the potent plant by around a third to around 543 million US dollars by 2028, according to the ministry’s bill. That number is still a fraction of the street value of Morocco’s illicit trafficking in processed cannabis resin, which amounts to more than $ 13 billion for export 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, calling the drug “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 that has seen thousands of farmers on police wanted lists while fields of narcotics are grown so abundantly that they can border the winding main road that cuts through the predominantly mountainous Rif. According to the latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the kingdom “remains the most cited country of origin for cannabis resin in the world”.
In a statement, the Justice and Development Party said the law had been proposed without adequate consultation, including with people in cannabis-growing areas, and was “mired in electoral considerations” ahead of the September general election. It questioned whether the changes would help fight poverty in Rif, where discontent also leads to disputes over ethnic identity and political freedom.