Earlier this month, the Moroccan government approved bill 13-21 to legalise the cultivation of marijuana for therapeutic and industrial purposes. Through this law, the Moroccan government is pursuing three objectives: to increase farmers’ incomes, to protect them from international drug trafficking networks and to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a growing global cannabis market.
A new approach to cannabis in Morocco
Since Morocco’s independence, the cultivation of cannabis has been totally prohibited throughout the country. But in fact, the state has never managed to stop the illegal production of this plant, especially in the north of the kingdom, in the Rif mountains where the proximity of the Strait of Gibraltar makes it easy for smugglers to supply Europe.
Today, Morocco is one of the world’s largest producers of cannabis. The Moroccan government has therefore recently adopted another approach, a more pragmatic one based on more flexible legislation. It has been announcing this approach for several months now.
Last December, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs recognised the medicinal properties of cannabis and removed the plant from the Annex IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This reclassification was made possible by the favourable vote of 27 out of 53 countries, including Morocco. Two months later, on 11 February, in line with WHO recommendations, Morocco’s National Narcotics Commission removed cannabis from the list of substances that constitute a serious threat. The country thus established a legal framework that made it possible for the government to approve Bill 13-21 to legalise cannabis cultivation for medical use on 11 March.
This bill still has to be voted on in the House of Representatives, which will discuss its practical application. Then it will be up to the Senate to decide on the issue. These steps should not be long in coming and, in principle, a law should be passed before the parliamentary elections in the autumn. One of the tasks of the parliament will be to issue ad hoc decrees and regulations to determine, among other things, how much cannabis can be produced and on what land. Morocco will thus be one of the only countries in the Arab world to legalise cannabis.
What does the bill contain?
The bill to legalise cannabis in Morocco will allow the cultivation of the plant for medical and industrial purposes. The government is adamant that the consumption of recreational cannabis will remain sanctioned.
Bill 13-21 provides for the creation of a national agency which will be responsible for supervising the cultivation, production, processing and marketing of cannabis produced throughout the country. This agency will allocate production licences, monitor production levels and supervise producers. Farmers wishing to produce cannabis would be free to do so on a licensed basis, but would have to join together in cooperatives. Finally, the bill also stipulates the conditions under which cannabis plants should be grown and the penalties for farmers who produce and market cannabis outside of the legal channels.
Moroccan politicians divided over cannabis issue
The ruling Justice and Development Party has seen its ranks divided between supporters and opponents of this legislative relaxation in favour of cannabis. Among its fiercest opponents is the party’s former leader and former head of the Moroccan government, Abdel-Ilah Benkiran. In a letter published on social networks, he threatened to leave the PJD if its deputies supported the bill in parliament. Despite the threats, the Prime Minister, Saad Eddine El Otmani, was in favour of the future law.
The first reactions
If the Moroccan political class was divided on the issue, the same was true outside the country. Indeed, the Algerian government described the Moroccan bill as “reckless”. Already in 2018, the then prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, accused Morocco of supplying Algerian youth with its drugs. Today, the official Algerian press accuses Rabat of seeking, through this measure, to ‘silence the voices demanding a life in dignity’.
Spain will most likely also be affected by this measure, which should lead to an increase in the production of cannabis and hashish in Morocco. But Madrid has not yet expressed its views on the issue. On the other hand, the Podemos party – which is a member of the government coalition – is likely to welcome the Moroccan initiative, having called for similar measures in Spain for years. The other governing party, the Socialist Party (PSOE), has never taken a very clear line on the issue.
In the United States, pragmatism prevails. Indeed, the bill has not yet been voted in Parliament but two American industrialists active in the cannabis sector have already travelled to the Morocco to meet producers. Their identities are not known, but it seems clear that the Moroccan government should achieve its goal of profiting from the development of the cannabis market.
Let’s hope that other countries will follow and that the world will move quickly towards the end of the prohibition and towards more intelligent and modern cannabis legislations.