Morocco is synonymous with hash. Not just any hash, either. Arguably the best hash in the world for centuries came from the mountain regions of the country, despite the plant’s illegal status. That might change soon, though. With the global mood on cannabis lightening, Moroccan officials are mulling legalizing the cultivation of the plant for medical and industrial purposes.
But not every grower is trusting that the proposal will do them good. According to the Globe and Mail, which ran a story this week on Moroccan hash production, growers in the Muslim country say the system would likely exclude them anyway.
The story focuses on growers in the Rif mountains, a place long known for cannabis production where growers openly harvest and often pay off police and officials. It’s the origin of the word “kief”. According to the United Nations, most of Europe’s hash originates from the region. It’s a demand that keeps the otherwise impoverished farmers employed, despite the lion’s share of the profits going to the smugglers and dealers.
Failure to pay the cops means you end up a target of arrest and prosecution. One man says he won’t leave his farm for fear of being picked up by police in town.
“I am scared to even go to the doctor,” he said. “I don’t even have the national identity card and I’m stuck in the village.”
The proposal would theoretically end that, by making the cannabis farmers legal and diverting their crops to medical firms. Law makers say it would create high-tech jobs in addition to keeping farmers employed.
“If Morocco has a crop that could produce these medicines that could be sold today in the U.S., Canada and France, it is an employment opportunity for citizens living in a miserable situation,” Mehdi Bensaid, a lawmaker with the opposition Party of Authenticity and Modernity, told The Associated Press. “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.”
Those who choose to continue making hashish to illegally sell would still face prosecution and increased scrutiny.
The plan, while noble, has few supporters in the staunchly-conservative Islamist government. Members of the Islamist Party for Justice and Development say the move is one by liberals to court votes in the Riff valley.
“These people are not just trying to get votes from the poor peasants in these regions, but are also looking for the sympathy and money from the drug barons ahead of the 2015 elections,” said Abdelaziz Aftati, a leading member of the Islamist party.
Meanwhile, the farmers in the middle don’t trust anyone. They say the price for their crops would likely plummet from the already low $8/kilogram value.
“If legalization happened for all of Morocco, we could never compete with the other farmers that have lots of land,” said local activist Mohammed Benabdallah. “The price of cannabis wouldn’t be any different than that of carrots — we’d make nothing.”