One of the world’s largest producers of illicit cannabis took a major step towards legalization last week, when the Moroccan parliament voted to legalize cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial use last week.
The move could be a major boon to the tens of thousands of farmers who make their livelihood off illicit cannabis cultivation in the North African country, which has long been one of the world’s main exporters of cannabis — mainly in the form of hashish.
The bill would not legalize the sale, use, or production of cannabis for recreational purposes.
The push toward legalization was largely tied to recent unrest in the cannabis growing Rif region of northern Morocco, and the desire by the country’s authorities to placate farmers and ease tensions in the impoverished area, according to the Bloomberg report.
The new bill will allow for the establishment of a regulatory agency and legal cannabis cultivation for industrial uses such as cosmetics and textiles — on the doorstep of Europe.
According to a 2016 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Morocco in 2014 remained the world’s largest producer of cannabis resin, and along with neighboring Algeria, accounted for 32 percent of the total hashish seized in Europe. Cannabis cultivation accounted for more than 330,000 acres (515.6 square miles) in the country in 2003, according to the Associated Press.
The bill was first approved in March by Morocco’s cabinet, after which it was submitted to the parliament. The bill was opposed by some members of the Islamist Justice and Development Party but won the support of Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani, according to the AP.
The vote in March came just a few months after the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs held a historic vote to accept the World Health Organization recommendation to remove cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Morocco’s king will need to sign the legislation before it becomes law.
If and when he does, Morocco could join Lebanon as the second country in the Arab world to pass a cannabis legalization measure. In April 2020, Lebanon’s parliament approved a bill to legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medical and industrial use.
As the Daily Star reported, that bill will allow illicit cannabis farmers to join a legal, regulated industry that will produce cannabis for hemp fabrics as well as pharmaceutical and CBD-derived products.
Like Morocco, Lebanon has long been one of the world’s leading producers of illicit cannabis, mainly in the form of hashish for export to countries around the Middle East and Europe.
In the same 2016 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Lebanon was named as the world’s third largest producer of cannabis resin after Morocco and Afghanistan.
Also like Morocco, the law could potentially provide economic relief to the country and quell unrest in a country where an estimated 45% of people live below the poverty line, and 22% live in extreme poverty.