The Moroccan Parliament has approved the legalization of medicinal and industrial cannabis. The legislation was passed by MP’s in Rabat on 28 May 2021 but will still need the approval of King Mohammed VI. The production and use of recreational cannabis remains illegal.
This comes after decades of debate about legalization, but reform is still likely to be challenged by hardline religious fundamentalists.
Moroccan cannabis farmers: heading towards legality
According to Bloomberg News Service, 119 legislators cast ballots in favour of legalisation and 48 against. The leading party of Morocco’s ruling coalition, the Islamicist Justice and Development Party (PJD) voted against the bill.
Cannabis reform driven by need for stability in the Rif
The legalization process is being driven by the Interior Ministry, which says it is necessary for social stability in the country’s main growing area, the 475 sq km Rif Mountain range. Tens of thousands of people have made their living for centuries by selling cannabis, but have remained marginalized because their only markets have been illegal.
The legal changes are expected to raise farmers’ revenues from growing the potent plant by about a third to 4.8-billion dirhams ($543m), by 2028, the ministry said in the bill. That figure is still a fraction of the street value of Morocco’s illegal trade in processed cannabis resin, which reaches 118-billion dirhams for exports to Europe alone, according to minutes of the debate in parliament.
“The situation in the Rif is unstable,” Noureddine Mediane, a legislator from the region, told parliament last month, describing the drug as “green gold.”
Morocco’s Rif Mountain range is the centre of the country’s cannabis production
‘Farmers must plant cannabis with their heads up high’
“We want these farmers to plant their cannabis with their heads held high,” he said. “Should we also ban cultivation of raisins, figs and barley when these serve to make alcohol and beer?”
The reforms will end the legal limbo that has seen thousands of farmers end up on police wanted lists while fields of the narcotic crop are grown so abundantly that they can be seen bordering the sinuous main road that cuts through the predominantly mountainous Rif. The kingdom “continues to be the most frequently mentioned source country for cannabis resin worldwide,” according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s latest report.
In a statement, the PJD said the law was tabled without proper consultation, including with people in cannabis-growing areas and was “enmeshed in electoral considerations” ahead of September’s parliamentary polls. It questioned if the changes would help tackle poverty in Rif, where discontent is also linked to disputes over ethnic identity and political freedom.