August 05, 2013

Modern Day Morocco prepares to Regulate Cannabis Production for Foreign Investors

Cannabis fields in the Rif Mountains
The People of Morrocco have always known the medicinal and economic value of the Cannabis Plant. For centuries. Farmers have been growing and processing Cannabis to be exported to markets throughout Europe. Although it is illegal to smoke hashish in Morocco, most of the men in the country smoke openly in cafes out of water pipes while drinking mint tea enthralled in card games and conversation with friends and family. The word ‘kif’ stems from the Arabic word for pleasure. Most of the Cannabis is grown and processed in the RIF Mountains in the North Eastern portion of Morocco. The region covers more than 11,000 square miles and supplies 70% of the European Hash Markets.

A bowl containing beaten kif.
Cannabis has been growing here since the 15th century. In the 60's and 70's people considered Morocco part of the Hippie Revolution, making the Country a popular travel spot. Back then, "kif" was produced for domestic use and fields of Cannabis were believed to cover only 5,000 hectres. Morocco obtained Pop Culture fame when legendary hashish producer  Akmed (Hole in the Head) smoked white hashish with Timothy Leary at the base of Mt Tidiquin in the highest part of the Rif Mountains. There is the inexpensive commercial product and then the good stuff, which the locals call Oro Negro, or Black Gold.  The quality hash from this region goes by many names including Ketama, Sputnik, Zero Zero, and King Hassan. Ketema Gold is the leading seller in Europe. Today, Moroccon Cannabis plants are estimated to cover more than 200,000 hectres.

The growing season here begins in March. Fields of sprouts are easily visible from the road.  Farmers use rudimentary, labor intensive processes to create hash in stone houses built into the mountainsides. The plants are harvested from the fields anywhere from July to August and bunched together. The cannabis bunches are placed in drying rooms to cure before being made into hash using several different extraction techniques for a variety of end user products. The Hashish created ranges in color and texture, some sandy in consistency, some moist like clay. Many of the hashish produced ends up the same rusty color as the clay dirt found in the land here.

It's too dry in this region to grow regular vegetables. If this region of the World did not have Cannabis, they would be forced to work in cities for salaries, only a small portion of what they receive now. For many of these families, Cannabis is the only source of sustainable income available for food, shelter and other meager living expenses.

Recently, the European Union offered Farmers other options for livelihood strategies in an attempt to curb production. They realized quickly the farmers here are not willing to do anything but grow Cannabis for the purpose of  Hashish.

An estimated one million people are thought to benefit annually on the cultivation of cannabis on more than 200,000 farms. For these poverty stricken families, Cannabis is their only option as a livelihood strategy and Hashish production techniques have been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years.

Morocco exports more than 3,000 tons of processed Hashish with estimated values of more than $10 billion. making Cannabis 10% of the Country’s economy.

Local officials have traditionally protected Cannabis Farmers from becoming a part of the larger War on Drugs with only a few scattered stories of corruption, bribery and failed attempts by the European Union to offer subsidies to farmers willing to grow other agricultural commodities. For the most part Cannabis is accepted in society as a way of life and it’s not changing any time soon.

It comes as no surprise as more countries relax Cannabis prohibition laws, Morrocco’s Parliament is considering draft legislation allowing farmers a legal system of regulation and distribution of Cannabis products. Leaders in the country see Cannabis as a way to draw foreign investment as pharmaceutical companies show more interest in distributing Cannabis medicines in global markets. Over the next three years, Governor Mohamed Boudra of Huciema-Taounate, the Country’s Northern region will be working with Parliament to enact a program designed to build confidence and strengthen ties between farmers and Morrocco’s ruling Monarchy under King Mohammad VI.

“We have to ensure that any legalization is done in an optimal fashion,”Abdelhalim Allaoui, a lawmaker with the ruling Justice and Development Party, told Business Week.“We need to establish what the medicinal virtues of the plant are and then think of exports, pharmaceutical industry developments, and how to draw foreign investment. This is a promising sector for the economy.” Business Week Article

For the families using Cannabis as a livelihood strategy and for the end user in the European Markets, this is all very good news highlighting the economic benefits of a plant known to sustain life in this region for centuries.