In Morocco, Rif growers still “in the dark” two years after the cannabis law

A grower shows cannabis leaves in Azila, Morocco, in September 2022.

The year 2023 may be the year of his first legal cannabis harvest. After years in semi-clandestineness, Aziz has decided to settle down “on the side of the law”. This farmer from the Rif, a mountainous region in northern Morocco which is home to one of the largest productions on the planet, intends to turn his back on drug traffickers to sell his “kif” industrialists engaged in the manufacture of cannabis products.

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In a hamlet near Talambote, about twenty kilometers from Chefchaouen, it is at the end of a winding track lined with conifers that the plots of Aziz are located. The season has started. The 38-year-old grower has just sown the seeds for the summer harvest. A few months ago, he created his cooperative, as required by the law adopted by Morocco in 2021, which authorizes the cultivation of cannabis for medical and industrial purposes while maintaining its recreational use prohibited. He applied for a license from the National Agency for the Regulation of Cannabis Activities (Anrac). He still has to find a company willing to buy his harvest. “Two Americans came to the village a few days ago, he says. They want to build a factory in the area and will need large quantities. They are interested in our plants. We haven’t talked about the price yet. »

In the surrounding douars, Aziz is a pioneer. According to him, “most farmers have done nothing”. If he decided to take the plunge, it was above all to live without the fear of prosecution, because “there is always the risk that a buyer caught by the police or a malicious neighbor will report you”. “But financially, he said, I do not see what the legal circuit will bring us. »

“We have nothing but the kif”

Difficult, in the region, to perceive the effects of the new legislation, which seems for the moment to sow more doubts than enthusiasm. “What I fear is that the profits will go to the State, to the labs, to the multinationals, and that we will be the left behind”, points out Farid, in his fifties, who cultivates “kif” in a nearby village. For now, he says to himself ” in the fog ” : “To whom and at what price will we sell? What seeds? Will they be suitable? We have nothing but kif. We are not going to take the risk of losing everything. »

In this country considered by the UN as the world’s leading producer of cannabis resin, the 2021 law which aims to “reconvert illicit crops that destroy the environment into sustainable legal activities that generate value and jobs” is nevertheless a beacon of hope. It even appears as a way out for the Rif, a poor and marginalized region, where this culture is both prohibited and tolerated by the authorities to maintain a certain form of social peace. And where the financial windfall generated by the traffic hardly benefits the approximately 400,000 people (according to an official estimate) who depend on it.

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Only 4% of the turnover of the illegal market would go to the farmers, according to the Ministry of the Interior. “The legal circuit will guarantee them incomes four to five times higher than what they earned illegally, assures Mohammed El Guerrouj, the director of Anrac. Through their cooperatives, they are the ones who will negotiate the prices. They will have a fixed income, which will give them visibility to invest and improve their lifestyle. » Not to mention the creation of jobs in the region, he promises, since “new industries entering the sector have an obligation to invest in the three provinces authorized to cultivate cannabis”, those of Chefchaouen, Al Hoceima and Taounate.

In his office in Rabat, where the files to be initialed accumulate, Mohammed El Guerrouj is keen to show that the site is progressing: “More than 400 farmers have already obtained cultivation authorization and 75 operators have received processing, marketing or export authorizations, including pharmaceutical industries, agro-industrialists, cooperatives and individuals. » On the spot, top four industries – one pharmaceutical, the other three cannabidiol (CBD) products – are “in the launch phase”he reports: “A whole dynamic will be set up in favor of the development of the region and its farmers. The added value is for them. »

“There will be resistance”

It remains to convince them. “We are talking about growers who perfectly master the codes of illegality but not those of legality. And who flee all that represents the State because of the repression and the abandonment of which they have been victims for a long time. There will be resistance.” foresees the anthropologist Khalid Mouna, author of the book The Bled of kif (ed. Ibis Press, 2010).

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Another uncertainty hangs over the outlets of this new legal cannabis market. “Will it be oriented only for medical use? Or will it cover a wider range of products, from cosmetics to food to building materials?, asks sociologist Kenza Afsahi. The impact on growers will depend on the size of this future market, but also on their ability to fit into the production chain, including processing. » The researcher from the University of Bordeaux rather anticipates the coexistence of two markets, “as in all countries that have legalized cannabis and never eradicated the illegal market”.

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“It is obvious that the demand for recreational cannabis is not going to disappear, abounds Khalid Tinasti, teacher-researcher in Geneva and specialist in drug policy. The illicit market will remain very powerful and only a handful of growers will enter the legal circuit. I don’t see how it could be otherwise, except to allow the recreational use of cannabis, which would allow the project to be truly inclusive. » An option which is however not on the agenda in Morocco.

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