A region with 80,000 families who subsist on growing and producing kif, the local word for cannabis, Morocco’s Rif mountains are the epicenter of a centuries-old cannabis culture. But these itinerate farmers, despite the fact that their yields make Morocco one of the most prolific producers of cannabis in the world, can expect to take home pennies a day while dealing with constant harassment from the police. In Morocco more than any other nation, even as changing attitudes toward cannabis are creating new dialogues across the world, a strange duality exists within their cannabis culture. According to Canada’s Globe and Mail, the “brilliant green fields” are left alone, but the farmers are treated with malice in the Muslim nation, which holds koranic prohibitions against substance use to be law.
Despite these religious prohibitions, however, the government of Morocco is beginning to rethink its stance on what could theoretically become one of its most valuable cash crops. At the moment, the cannabis trade in Morocco is dominated by the smugglers who give growers laughably low sums for their crop and sell the cannabis in Europe at exponential profits. Though the Rif mountains have been an enclave of counterculturalism since the 1960s and still play host to a few leftist American expats, paramilitary raids and a culture of fear have permeated what was once was—and could be in the future—a veritable Eden for cannabis enthusiasts. Production of kif is one of the linchpins of the Moroccan economy, but the situation in which it’s produced is more Wild West than Northwest Africa.
Before 1974, the growth and consumption of kif were protected by royal mandate in the former european colony, but in that year an all-out ban on cannabis was passed, putting many of Morocco’s farmers in the dreary, fearful limbo in which they still exist today. The ban, partly the result of Western tourists taking advantage of cannabis culture in Morocco during the 1960s and early ‘70s, has resulted in a security-based, smuggling-centered cannabis policy that Moroccan politicians have finally begun to admit has failed.
Last year, the opposition Party of Authenticity and Modernity introduced legislation that would have legalized production of cannabis. The legislation would, however, keep cannabis consumption illegal in the country despite interest from American pharmaceutical companies in establishing a medical cannabis industry. Under the proposed law, industrial hemp would be unilaterally legalized, with factories established in areas like the Rif mountains where the local economy depends on cannabis production. Mehdi Bensaid of the Party of Authenticity and Modernity told the Globe and Mail last year that he hoped his party’s legislation would pave the way for legalization of medical cannabis, saying “It’s a win-win, for the state, because there is tax, for the citizens, because they are in an illegal situation, and for the sick, who get their medicine.”
But as it stands, the powers that be in the Moroccan government—the ruling Islamist political party and the royal family—have remained mute on the subject, leaving the push to legalize one of the world’s oldest and most venerable cannabis cultures in limbo. More importantly, inaction leaves 80,000 families in the kind of situation that can see them robbed, harassed, or worse. The Islamist Party for Justice and Development, meanwhile, have accused opposition parties of trying to curry favor with the Rif mountains’ populous with their push for legalization, with some, like party spokesman Abdelaziz Aftati going so far as to claim that the opposition was hoping to gain the sympathy of the smugglers and drug barons themselves. For their part, this September the Party of Authenticity and Modernity had a strong showing, meaning real change could be just around the corner for Morocco.