German publication Deutsche Welle writes..
Presenting the bill, Laftit said legalizing cannabis would help improve the lives of low-income cannabis farmers, extract them from international drug smuggling networks and lead to better environmental outcomes in areas of Morocco where the crop is traditionally grown.
Most of the country’s cannabis comes from the economically depressed Rif region in the north, where farms are an open secret. But at the same time that farms are tolerated, the farmers themselves often live in poverty and fear.
The draft bill proposes a national agency for cannabis and farmers’ cooperatives to regulate the sector. If cannabis were legalized, “Morocco would be ideally positioned to reap a huge influx in investment toward the infrastructure necessary to serve its lucrative market,” a 2019 report by cannabis market research company New Frontier Data concluded. The researchers added that it would also allow the Moroccan growers to diversify into other cannabis-related products.
Morocco also has “a unique advantage, just being so close to the European market,” John Kagia, New Frontier Data’s chief knowledge officer, told DW. Cannabis from there is usually of high quality, he said.
There are some serious political obstacles being placed in the way of an official cannabis industry in Morocco though. A senior member of the Moroccan Justice and Development Party (PJD), Abdelilah Benkirane, also a former prime minister, suspended his membership in the conservative, Islamist party this month. He did so because the PJD had dropped its opposition to legalizing cannabis cultivation for medical and industrial purposes. The PJD leads the current coalition government but has lost popular support during the pandemic.
Politicians also vigorously debated which parliamentary committees would need to vet the draft bill. Critics said this was another way of prolonging its passage.
And, in April, farmers’ groups in northern cannabis-producing regions announced that they also want to amend the draft law. Many say they were not adequately consulted.
For example, the legalization of cannabis farming may cause operations to set up in regions more suitable for agriculture, and farmers in the north want to restrict future growing to areas where the crop has historically been tended. It could also lower prices they get for their crops. The farmers have also called for an amnesty for the more than 40,000 people who have arrest warrants out for them because of involvement in the trade.
Alternatives to crime
Blickman said EU governments could do more to help support the legalization campaign in Morocco by emphasizing what is known as “alternative development.”
Originally, “alternative development” came about because “the lack of success and the high financial and social costs of the ‘war on drugs’ [caused] many countries to rethink their policies,” according to an October 2020 strategy paper by Germany’s Economic Cooperation and Development Ministry.
At first, alternative development meant finding other sources of income for farmers who had been involved in growing illicit drug crops, such as bananas, cocoa, coffee, livestock or even fish. Cannabis, for medical use, has recently become one of those alternatives.
“More and more countries, including Germany, are adopting laws to regulate the medical use,” the government’s strategy paper noted. “This might increase the demand for legally cultivated medical cannabis and open up development potentials in regions in which cannabis has only been grown illegally to date.”
Kagia said there was a strong connection between the idea of development and the commercial market. Most of the countries that are currently trying to legalize cannabis cultivation plan to export to Europe, he said. “And without the commercial markets in Europe, cannabis as a tool for development does not work. A well-regulated medical cannabis market is going to be the principle catalyst for the industry’s growth.”
“It would be good for Europe to be more open to seeing how they can assist in setting up this industry by, for instance, importing medical cannabis from Morocco to Germany — the biggest medical cannabis market at the moment,” Blickman said. “A favorable statement from countries with medicinal cannabis programs could help.”
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