MOROCCO: Mustapha Tahiri, a cannabis farmer in northern Morocco, looks forward to the day he can sell his crop without worrying about being jailed. If lawmakers in the Islamist-led government have their way, that isn’t too far off.
“I’d be a lot happier if the state leaves us alone, stops the arrests and lets us grow the herb,” said Tahiri, a father of seven whose house in the village of Beni Gmil was raided by anti-drug security forces last year. He said he’d be willing to sell his cannabis resin for 7,500 dirhams ($886) per kilo, about half of what he is now getting from middlemen.
At least 800,000 Moroccans live off illegal marijuana cultivation, generating annual sales estimated at $10 billion, or 10 percent of the economy, according to the Moroccan Network for the Industrial and Medicinal use of Marijuana, a local charity. Morocco, with a population of 32 million, is Africa’s sixth-largest economy, according to data from the International Monetary Fund.
Legalization would allow farmers to sell to the government for medicinal and industrial purposes rather than to drug traffickers. That could boost exports and help reduce a trade deficit that widened to a record 197 billion dirhams last year, about 23 percent of gross domestic product. It could also help pacify inhabitants of a historically-restive region after Arab Spring uprisings toppled regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
Lawmakers in Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s Islamist PJD, or Justice and Development party, as well as the opposition Authenticity and Modernity, are considering draft legislation proposed by the Morocco Network. Mohamed Boudra, a member of Authenticity and Modernity and governor of Hoceima-Taounate, the country’s biggest cannabis-producing region, said his party is seeking to enact the bill within three years.
“We have to ensure that any legalization is done in an optimal fashion,” said PJD lawmaker Abdelahim Allaoui. “We need to establish what the medicinal virtues of the plant are, and then think of exports, pharmaceutical industry developments, and how to draw foreign investment. This is a promising sector for the economy.”