In a unique legalization move, Morocco, the North African country, which, with Spain, flanks the narrow entrance to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean, has agreed to proceed with medical cannabis cultivation. Such a move is certainly a la mode these days, both in the African (not to mention European) continent.
What is unique is that Morocco, like South Africa, appears to want to focus the industry in a specific part of the country — and further for strategic, economic, and sustainable development, as well as crime prevention reasons.
A “Gateway” Drug?
It is easy to understand this logic by having a birds-eye view of the geography and the history here. Moroccan farmers in the so-called “Gateway to Europe” provinces of Al Hoceima, Chefchaouen, and Taounate will be able to legally grow the plant first.
Chefchaouen sits on the northernmost “horn” of the country, jutting out into the Mediterranean. From here it is a short trip by boat to Europe via Spain. Al Hoceima sits right next to it to the east — with Mediterranean access as well, as does Taounate, which also incorporates the Rif Mountains.
For those unfamiliar with the cannabis significance of these locations, it is not inaccurate to call this a kind of African Emerald Triangle. This is the current center of illicit cannabis cultivation and hash production domestically which currently employs about 800,000 people. Morocco was ranked as the world’s largest producer of cannabis resin according to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime report in 2020. Moroccan hash is sold in black markets across Europe.
Turn that energy and those jobs legit? Voila, a salvation indeed.
The new law does not preclude other provinces from following suit — and indeed leaves a door open to demand from particularly international investors. The country is counting on an annual growth rate of 60% in Europe. However accurate this projection is, it is most likely that investors themselves will be most interested in these three regions, just because of the proximity to Europe and overall infrastructure that already exists, including roads as well as existing cannabis culture.
The decree, which was drafted by the Ministry of Interior in coordination with other relevant agencies, is part of the application of the cultivation law passed last May. The government is estimating that its domestic cannabis industry may generate between $420 and $630 million of product annually. Officials are clearly counting on this revenue as a valuable injection of foreign cash that it plans to use for economic development, including to improve the conditions of women living in these three provinces.
The passage of the law and implementation of such regulations is a culmination of an 11-year battle at the federal level that began in 2011.
The Nitty Gritty Details
Morocco has already established a National Agency for the Regulation of Cannabis-related Activities. It is this agency that will buy legal, regulated crops, and then sell the same to pharmaceutical firms. This agency will act as a focal administrative point as government officials in the Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Trade industries decide on the terms of the licenses themselves.
The new law, in an effort to win the hearts and minds of farmers, is also supporting the creation of farmer’s cooperatives which will directly negotiate rates with manufacturers. The idea is to create a legal industry which brings in much needed foreign investment, tax revenue, and creates jobs while stamping out the illicit market.
License holders will be required to provide the new cannabis agency with both monthly and annual reports on their production. These reports will have to include the overall stock, seeds, seedlings, and cannabis products as well as a physical inventory of manufacturing facilities. The percent of THC in cannabis cultivated here will also be set by government mandate.
Morocco, a result, may become, along with South Africa, a national experiment in turning a widespread criminal enterprise in a strategic area of the country into a legit, revenue producing one that is also sustainable.
Marguerite Arnold is a veteran cannabis industry journalist, covering the market from Germany since 2013. Her second book, Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu, about the inside story of the first German cannabis cultivation bid, is on sale now in English and German.