Morocco and Cannabis

Reduction, containment or acceptance
15 March 2017
Policy briefing

This policy briefing discusses whether or not the aim of reducing cannabis cultivation is realistic or beneficial for Morocco, what it would actually mean for the major production area the Rif – one of the poorest, most densely populated and environmentally fragile regions in the country – and what that could imply for meaningful sustainable development. The briefing will give some historical background, discuss developments in the cannabis market, and highlight environmental and social consequences as well as the recent debate about regulation in Morocco and about European policies.

According to the World Drug Report 2016, based on reports from Member States during the period 2009-2014, Morocco continues to be the world’s largest producer of cannabis resin (hashish), followed by Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon, India and Pakistan. Moroccan authorities claim that in a decade, the area under cannabis cultivation in the country decreased by 65 per cent from an official all-time high of 134,000 ha in 2003 to 47,196 ha in 2013. Moroccan authorities expect the total area to decline further to 34,000 ha, in the next five years. Nevertheless, Moroccan hashish is still widely available on the European market. Although cannabis cultivation might have gone down, this does not necessarily imply a decline in hashish production.
 
Local cannabis growers have, over the past 50 years, shown a remarkable resilience to government attempts to eradicate or reduce cannabis cultivation as well as a noteworthy ability to adapt to changing international market conditions.6 According to figures cited by the interior ministry, an estimated 90,000 households, or 760,000 Moroccans, depend for their livelihoods on cannabis production, which is concentrated in the northern Rif regions of Al-Hoceima, Chefchaouen and Ouazzane. Other observers estimate that 140,000 growers are involved in cannabis cultivation, and if their families are included, more than one million people depend on the illicit economy.
 
This briefing will discuss whether or not the aim of reducing cannabis cultivation is realistic or beneficial for Morocco, what it would actually mean for the major production area the Rif – one of the poorest, most densely populated and environmentally fragile regions in the country – and what that could imply for meaningful sustainable development. The briefing will give some historical background, discuss developments in the cannabis market, and highlight environmental and social consequences as well as the recent debate about regulation in Morocco and about European policies. Finally, it will offer some reflections on future sustainable development goals regarding cannabis cultivation.
 
Photo Credit: Pien Metaal
Photo credit Pien Metaal
 

Key points

  • Morocco continues to be the world’s largest producer of cannabis resin (hashish). Over the past 50 years, the Moroccan cannabis growers shown a remarkable resilience to government attempts to eradicate or reduce cannabis cultivation as well as a noteworthy ability to adapt to changing international market conditions.

 

  • Since Morocco’s independence the government has practiced a policy of containment regarding cannabis cultivation, allowing no new areas but tacitly allowing those already in production to be maintained.

 

  • The rapid increase in illicit cannabis cultivation in the Rif during the last decades, as well as poor soil conservation practices, have taken a heavy toll on the Rif’s already threatened forests and fragile ecosystems.

 

  • The unregulated cannabis market in Morocco has negative social consequences. Some 48,000 growers have arrest warrants hanging over their heads, which is a source of corruption and repression. An amnesty and decriminalization could be effective measures to diminish negative social consequences and open the debate about regulation.

 

  • Cannabis farmers in Morocco should have access to emerging legally regulated cannabis markets that are gaining ground worldwide. The challenge is to find a sustainable development model that includes cannabis cultivation in Morocco, instead of excluding cannabis and ignoring the realities of more than 50 years of failed attempts to eradicate the only viable economic option in the region.