Morocco Considers Legalizing Cannabis

Following the efforts of community activists, the Moroccan parliament is studying the possibility of legalizing cannabis for limited use.

al-monitor Marijuana plants grow near a road in the Rif region, near Chefchaouen Aug. 11, 2008.  Photo by REUTERS/Rafael Marchante.

Topics covered

marijuana, morocco, moroccan society, drug trade

Oct 27, 2013

Not long ago, the topic of cannabis stirred the suspicion of the political class. However, the arguments of the Moroccan Network for the Medical and Industrial Use of Cannabis (CMUMIK) ended up convincing many politicians and parties. The issue will even be studied in parliament.

Riffian community activist Chakib el-Khayari, 34, enjoys being in Rabat, where he can meet members of a certain political party. “Not long ago, the stories of cannabis were for fools and Riffians. Everything has changed.” said Khayari.

In 2009, Khayari was sentenced to two years in prison and was accused of several charges, including discrediting the efforts made by Moroccan authorities to fight drug trafficking. During one weekend in October 2013, the former prisoner was invited as a member of the CMUMIK by the Authenticity and Modernity Party. The purpose of the meeting was to prepare a study day on cannabis in parliament.

Joint venture

The CMUMIK includes about 15 activists, researchers, doctors and students. It was created in 2007 as an  initiative by two small human rights organizations based in Tetouan and Nador, namely the Rif Association for Human Rights (ARDH) whose president is Khayari. Several international organizations support the network in its efforts, including the World Amazigh Congress, the World Mountain People Association (WMPA) and the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD).

In May, the CMUMIK issued “a draft law sample that aims at legalizing the cultivation and therapeutic and industrial use of cannabis. As it should be, the sample was composed of a preamble and 109 articles.” Extensive and intense field surveys and data gathering were necessary to draft this text that was fine-tuned by specialists in the Netherlands. The seriousness of the process has clearly not escaped the Authenticity and Modernity Party and the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) parliamentary groups, who contacted the network in July.

The Authenticity and Modernity Party MPs did not beat around the bush. Following a meeting in mid-July, they announced to the network that they wanted to work on a draft law based on their sample. On July 16, they issued a statement to let people know that discussions had been held between the Authenticity and Modernity Party and the network. Khayari did not hide his enthusiasm, “Two big parties who are supposedly rivals have contacted us, and neither was reportedly annoyed that its political opponent had also gotten in touch with us. This proves to me that the issue of cannabis is not limited to one party.”

The cannabis office

The purpose of the CMUMIK is clear: to change the law of April 24, 1954, prohibiting the cultivation and consumption of cannabis. “Everyone would benefit, beginning with the small Rif farmers. Members of the network, most of whom live in the area, know them well.” asserts Khayari.

“In addition to having disastrous living conditions, they earn little money, and out fear of arrest, they flee authorities. As a result, they no longer have a national ID card or social security or receive any basic help from the state. Most of them are taken hostage by traffickers,” explains Khayari. The network ensures that most farmers understand the principle of legalization.

As a first step, the CMUMIK proposes the legalization of the industrial use of cannabis, which would be used in the manufacture of insulating material or textiles. Such use requires the plants to have a low THC content (the molecule with psychoactive properties) to prevent their transformation into narcotics. For the medical use of cannabis, Khayari admits that its implementation is a little more complicated. Indeed, the plants used for therapeutic purposes have a higher level of THC.

Khayari contacted doctors to discuss specific cases that could be given prescription cannabis. However, the recreational use of cannabis is absent from the draft law developed by the network. Joint lovers will have to wait.

The network also proposes the creation of a “National Cannabis Board” to manage the trade and cultivation of cannabis. This board would be the only customer of cannabis growers, ideally organized into cooperatives. In turn, it will resell the crops in local and foreign markets.

“Today, the state spends money to fight cannabis. We propose that it works to make money off of it. This would be like an attempt to reverse the trade deficit,” argues Khayari.

Impossible eradication

The network is not claiming that it will put an end to the illegal cannabis cultivation and trafficking. Khayari is pragmatic, and says, “The crops are here, and the set plans have failed so far. This is only about putting as many growers of illicit substance as possible within a legal framework.”

He cites a report by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which demonstrates the failure of the policies aiming at destroying the fields of cannabis and developing alternative crops. This is how the central idea of the CMUMIK ​​came up to “monitor the cultivation of cannabis rather than try to eradicate it.” Motivated by the interest in the draft law, the network is pondering a “strategic plan” today to support the legalization of cannabis. The plan could include appropriate regulation of sales of cannabis seeds, introduction of taxes on crops, or the compliance of the laws governing it with European laws and standards.

Meanwhile, the Authenticity and Modernity Bloc, with the help of the network, is finalizing the preparations for a study day in parliament in November 2013. Authenticity and Modernity Party MP Mehdi Bensaid explained, “We will invite foreign experts to discuss economic and health benefits. Then, we will collect the recommendations of MPs, and submit a bill largely inspired by the sample put forward by the network.”

Bensaid believes it is possible to reach a “cordial agreement within the political class” to further the debate as soon as possible. He cites as evidence the interest of several elected rightists and leftists. PJD MP Abdelhalim Allawi, Istiqlal MP Nourdin Moudiane and Mayor of the Socialist Union of Political Forces (USFP) in Agadir city Tariq Kabbage are the figures most involved in the subject. Will the political class smoke the peace pipe to settle the issue of cannabis?

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Jules Crétois