Opinion

Morocco ready to legalise cannabis for medical purposes

Marreucos Canabis

Almost a year after Lebanon legalised cannabis for medical purposes, Morocco becomes the second Arab country to do so. An alternative that would resolve many of the kingdom's concerns at this time of health crisis. Although there are many detractors of this approach, there is no shortage of advocates of the plant's innumerable therapeutic virtues. 

The Moroccan variety of Rifian cannabis is referred to by local residents as Beldia, a word that by extension means authentic. Beldia contains fairly low levels of THC, but has long been mixed with hybrid plants for mass production and trafficking. Today, it is almost impossible to find. 

A fortnight ago, the draft law on the legalisation of the use of cannabis for medical and therapeutic purposes was officially announced. 

A text that has to be completed to be approved by the next Council of Ministers.

For several years, there has been great resistance to this issue at the governmental level, but the ruling PJD party has had to revise its position since cannabis was removed from the list of most controlled drugs by the UN agency. The bill proposes the creation of a legal cannabis industry in which growers would organise themselves into cooperatives and sell their harvest to local or international processing companies. Legal cannabis plantations will not only improve farmers' incomes, but also weaken national and international drug trafficking networks and attract foreign investment to tap into the revenues of the international cannabis market. The implementation of these new measures will also solve many problems in the northern region, which has been subject to popular uprisings since it was suffocated by the closure of crossing points and trade points with the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

The details of the bill have not yet been revealed and information is trickling out as it is such a hotly debated issue. But what is already known is that control tools are envisaged, including the creation of a national agency to control production, transport and sales. However, the recreational use of cannabis in Morocco remains prohibited. In parliament, the Islamist PJD party has a majority and has yet to approve the plan in the coming days. For Morocco, the stakes are high. According to the UN drug agency, Morocco is one of the world's leading cannabis producers. Bill 13-21 will mark the kingdom's history and help redistribute the cards both domestically and internationally. The areas in the provinces dedicated to medical cannabis production will soon be announced. Cannabis cultivation will only be allowed in the northern regions, where it is in the majority.

The illicit cannabis trade in Morocco is estimated at $15 billion. 

This is almost double the already published estimates. These profits mainly go into the pockets of organised crime gangs and drug traffickers. With the current illegal status of cannabis, farmers receive $500 million, while drug traffickers receive the remaining $14.5 billion.

But what I don't know at the moment is whether a general amnesty would affect illegal growers. In any case, it is the wish of many, including Nourdine Mediane, president of the Istiqlal (Morocco's historic party) group in the House of Representatives, who is calling for some 300,000 farmers to be pardoned.

Morocco, which has been trying to curb the drug trafficking problem for several years, succeeded in 2003 in reducing the area under cannabis cultivation from 134,000 hectares to 47,000 hectares, but much of the trade is outside the control of the authorities. The stakes are therefore enormous for the country. Although some people were surprised by this bill, the signs were visible last December, when Morocco was one of the countries that voted to remove cannabis from the most controlled drug category, following the World Health Organisation's recommendation to facilitate research into its medical use.

For the record, the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) and the Istiqlal Party (PI) had introduced bills on the issue in the past, but they were not retained. Cannabis production supports an estimated 90,000 families in Morocco. This activity is concentrated in the north of the country, where Al Hoceima is the largest producer.