Cannabis production is big business in Morocco which is world’s largest producer with almost 50,000 hectares of land dedicated to cultivating the crop. Its mountainous topography and comparatively hot humid climate in certain parts of the country such as the Rif are ideal for growing the plant. Unofficial estimates put the amount produced in 2020 at 700 tonnes which had an estimated value of US$23 billion. Around 90,000-140,000 families support themselves through cannabis cultivation with women traditionally farming the crop in the fields, and men managing the business side of things. 

The government’s 11 March approval of draft legislation to legalise cannabis cultivation for medical and pharmaceutical purposes, and the likely passing of this legislation by parliament in due course, is continuing to make waves inside the Kingdom. 

New Moroccan legislation to legalise cannabis will have major political implications

While there are many who support this move, including the cannabis farmers themselves, others will uphold their objections. They are partly on moral grounds but also because they believe that developing this industry is an inadequate response to the very deep-seated development challenges in impoverished areas such as the Rif. 

Some political parties are fully behind the idea of legalising the appropriate use of the drug, including the Istiqlal Party and the Parti Authenticité et Modernité (PAM) which have both been championing the legalisation of cannabis. They proposed the legislation of the crop for medical and pharmaceutical purposes eight years ago. 

The row over cannabis is, however, fuelling a growing belief among member of the ruling Parti de la justice et du développement (PJD). PJD members that the State is engaged in a deliberate ploy to curb and contain its power. Some are therefore concluding that the whole issue was cooked up by the country’s establishment, in tandem with opposition parties, to undermine it and sow discord among the PJD ranks. They also fear that the move was a deliberate attempt by Istiqlal and the PAM to try to enhance their election prospects by picking up additional votes in cannabis producing regions where the PJD has traditionally performed poorly. 

For many Islamists, including those in the PJD, the idea of legalising drugs is beyond the pale. Although the draft law does not allow for its recreational use, traditionalists hold strict views that taking drugs of any sort is un-Islamic. Therefore, while the party’s leaders in the government approved the draft legislation, the PJD’s more rigid factions — as well as many of its grass roots conservatives — object to the statute and reject the idea of legalising cannabis out of hand. Many also argue that ratification is not a proper economic alternative for underdeveloped areas. Some have gone as far as to claim that legislation might result in chaos in the cannabis producing areas, and that it could even foster separatist tendencies in these regions. 

The debate comes at a time when the PJD can ill afford any more internal dissent. Despite their vocal opposition the former PJD prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane and conservative supporters will ultimately pipe down and return to the party’s fold and especially given the approaching elections. The tensions between the PJD’s more pragmatic and more hawkish currents will, however, increase and place the party under greater strain. 

The PJD will also do everything in its power to challenge the recently passed amendments to the Election Law, and particularly those changes that are related to the electoral quotient. It will, however, struggle to get these amendments overturned and its legal appeals to the Constitutional Court are unlikely to bear fruit. If so, it will probably fare even worse in the upcoming elections than it did in previous national polls. This could mean an end to its time in power because, with a lower share of the vote, it will be more easily outmanoeuvred by the other political parties and may even end up in opposition. This would mark a serious blow to the Islamist camp and could trigger a major split inside the party. 

This excerpt is taken from Morocco Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Morocco. Click here to receive a free sample copy.