The northern African nation of Morocco formally launched its legal cannabis industry this week with the issuance of the country’s first 10 permits to produce cannabis. The Moroccan government legalized the regulated production and commercialization of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes in March of last year, giving its limited stamp of approval to an industry that has thrived in the country for hundreds of years.
Under the law, farmers in Morocco’s northern mountainous areas who organize into collectives will gradually be permitted to cultivate cannabis to fill the needs of the legal market. Abdeluafi Laftit, the Interior Minister of the Alaouite kingdom, Morocco’s reigning monarchy, said the legalization of cannabis is part of the government’s plan to create new “development opportunities,” according to a report from regional media.
On Tuesday, the National Agency for the Regulation of Cannabis Activities (ANRAC), the agency formed to regulate the newly legal industry, issued the first 10 permits for cannabis cultivation and production. The agency also granted permission for authorized companies to market and export cannabis and cannabis derivatives for pharmaceutical, medical, and industrial purposes. According to a statement issued by ANRAC, the move is part of the implementation of last year’s Law 13-21 on the legal uses of cannabis.
Under the plan, ANRAC will authorize farmers to cultivate and process cannabis through a network of closely regulated agricultural collectives. The authorizations will be issued at the provincial level in the provinces of Al Hoceima, Chefchaouen, and Taounate, in a gradual fashion as the needs of the legal market for cannabis dictate. ANRAC noted that it is still studying the prospects of the legal cannabis market in order to foster growth throughout the sector and make the transition to the regulated market easier for farmers who have been producing hashish for Europe’s illicit market for generations.
Will Traditional Farmers in Morocco See the Benefits?
But farmers in Morocco’s Rif Mountains, where large-scale production of hashish has occurred since at least the 18th century, fear the government’s crackdown on unlicensed production and the slow pace of issuing permits will result in missed opportunities. Historically, the region has supplied about 70% of the hashish in Europe’s illicit market. But legalization efforts and domestic production on the European continent are likely to cut into that market significantly.
Souad, a cannabis farmer in the village of Azila, said that Morocco’s cannabis farmers are uncertain about their future and believe that the government’s plan to legalize cannabis has not yet delivered any benefits.
“We’re still attached to this plant, but it has stopped giving us anything,” Souad told WION news.
“Nobody wants it anymore,” she added. “Our lives are hard now.”
Although she is in her 60s, Souad still cultivates cannabis with her sons. She hopes that legalization will help bring prosperity to her family and the marginalized Rif Mountains region, but she is unsure of the prospects for success.
“If it’s serious, it’s a good thing,” said Souad.
As cannabis reform efforts in Europe take hold, the market for Moroccan hashish has dropped significantly. Income from cannabis for farmers in Morocco fell from 500 million euros (about $490 million) a year in the early part of the 21st century to less than 325 million euros (about $319 million) in 2020, according to a 2021 interior ministry study.
“The market has fallen drastically,” said Karim, another grower in Azila.
This year Karim faced additional challenges caused by the worst drought the region has seen in decades. Because of the water shortages, he was only able to farm a portion of his family’s land this year. Farmers are also seeing increased efforts by the government to stem illicit production as they begin to regulate Morocco’s cannabis market.
“Farmers are the weak link in the supply chain—we’re the ones who pay the price,” Karim complained.
“The only option we have left is prison,” he added.