For years, Morocco has been a leading producer and exporter of cannabis products. In fact, if you visited a coffee shop in Amsterdam or a cannabis club in Barcelona during the last few years, there is a 40 percent chance you smoked Moroccan plants. The cannabis cultivation is so significant in Morocco that up to a million Moroccans earn their living directly from the industry.
Today, nearly half of the world's hash is cultivated in the country, but how did Morocco become the World's Hash Capital? Well, it all started with the Arab invasion...
The Arrival of Cannabis in Morocco
During the seventh and eighth centuries, the first Arab invasions took place in Maghreb, an area of Northern African known as the Barbary Coast in English literature. The Arabs eventually defeated the African armies and sought to convert the region to Islam, but the Arabian troops brought more to Morocco than just their religious faith. The invading armies introduced North Africa to an abundance of new goods and agricultural crops, including cannabis, that it had not previously seen.
Over the next thousand years, Morocco experienced several more battles—leaders rose and fell, empires grew and crumbled—but the local cannabis industry did not disappear. The Rif Mountains, a secluded area in northern Morocco that's also known as the "Parvati Valley" of Africa, has since become the main breeding ground for cannabis.
Europeans Overtake the Moroccan Cannabis Market
The barbarians of Maghreb received official approval for their hashish consumption hobby in 1890. Sultan Hassan I wanted to reward the tribes of the Rif Mountains for their loyalty and assistance in resisting the attempts of the Spanish occupation in Northern Morocco, and he issued a special permit to several villages to grow and sell cannabis products. Then in 1906, world leaders gathered in El Aguilas, Spain, to discuss the future of Morocco. At the end of the discussions, the participants signed a "document of agreement" that relates to a variety of subjects, such as:
- Establishing a local police force
- Improving tax collection
- Establishing a new bank
A clause on the margins of the agreement stated that the cannabis market in Morocco would undergo a series of regulations, but the Europeans are no fools, and within the same "regulations," it was determined that Moroccan farmers will be allowed to sell their cannabis to only one source: a purely European corporation, mainly under French and Spanish control.
The Rif Wars
The local cannabis industry continued to function without interruption for a number of years until, in 1920, Abd al-Karim al-Khatabi came to the region and successfully united the barbarian tribes in the Rif Mountains against the European colonialists. At first, the revolt was a huge success, and for five years, the barbarians managed to establish their own independent state: the Rif Republic.
Ironically, when Rif residents were free from foreign rule, they were forbidden to grow cannabis since Al-Khatabi claimed that the practice was contrary to Islam.
The Rif Republic held up for only five years until the Spanish had enough, and together with the French, they raided the area with an enormous force of nearly half a million soldiers. In the end, al-Khatabi was forced to surrender and accept exile to a remote island near Madagascar. With the collapse of the Rif Republic, Al-Khatabi’s ban on cannabis cultivation came to an end, and the local hashish industry began to recover.
Light One Up for Moroccan Independence!
Morocco gained full independence in 1956, and then-ruler King Mohammed V announced new reforms in the country, including a sweeping ban on the cultivation and sale of cannabis. The renewed ban on the hashish industry created a dispute that continues to this day between the Moroccan government and the farmers in the Rif Mountains.
The barbarians claim that when the king visited the region, he made an "oral agreement" with them, exempting them from the ban and allowing them to continue producing hashish, but the Moroccan government vehemently denies the existence of such an agreement.
With the establishment of Morocco as an independent state in the late 1950s, most of the colonialist forces left and returned to Europe, but a few years later, a completely different kind of European reached the Maghreb, and it changed the local cannabis industry forever: the hippies.
"Moroccans are very proud of their hashish"
Despite the country's reputation for hash, the cultivation of cannabis in Morocco is still considered a criminal offense. In fact, nearly 50,000 growers have a pending arrest warrant against them. For this reason, farmers on a commercial scale are often suspicious and do not like it when Westerners visit their farms with cameras. Nevertheless, PRØHBTD traveled to the city of Tetouan in the north near Tangier to meet with a European who has been cooperating with the local farmers for years.
Francis, a French cultivator, took us to visit one of his partner’s cannabis fields near the village of Qatma, in the Rif Mountains.
"The Moroccans are very proud of their hashish and are very proud of the local genetics here," he says as we ascend up the hills. "The most well-known landrace is called bildya, which is a pretty short plant with few side branches. This strain is flowering early and has good resilience to the local climate, but it does not have too much of resin production, and it's relatively low in THC."
The bildya landrace was the most common genetics in Morocco for many years. This hegemony lasted until the '60s, during which time the country experienced a great influx of hippie tourists, literary giants and rock idols like Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, some of whom left the local farmers a small gift of cannabis seeds from the Far East, especially from Pakistan.
The Pakistani strain did not adjust well to the Moroccan climate, but the farmers eventually crossed it with the bildya, and together they created the Khardalla: a hybrid that was more resistant and produced a relatively high amount of resin. In the 1990s, European cultivators began to smuggle hybrid seeds into Morocco. These strains were more suited to the local climate, producing even more resin than the Khardalla. The phenomenon of growing hybrid strains from Europe continues to this day, and its influence on Morocco's hashish industry has been revolutionary.
"The hybrid varieties demanded more water than the older strains," Francis says, "so if in the past farmers in Morocco relied only on rainwater, today they are already digging wells and installing more advanced irrigation systems that include pumps and drippers. Some farms also significantly increased the amount of fertilizer that plants receive."
In addition to improving the irrigation and fertilization systems, some farms built greenhouses with artificial lighting, giving farmers the option of timing their cannabis flowering and allowing them to preserve selected genetics. The Moroccans also upgraded their post-harvest operation.
"At some point, the Moroccan farmers began to employ Europeans who specialize in producing cannabis extracts," Francis explained. "The traditional method of sifting hash with silk has given way to advanced techniques such as closed-loop extraction with CO2 BHO [carbon dioxide and butane extraction], rosin press, you name it. I think it is fair to say that cannabis extracts produced in Morocco today can reach the same quality of the extracts we find in Europe or North America."
Laboratory tests conducted on Moroccan hashish in the 1970s found an average of less than 8 percent THC, but since the 2000s, the THC content in Moroccan hashish has increased five- to tenfold.
The Tragedy of Prohibition
The cannabis industry in Morocco has come a long way from the traditional hashish period to the oils and extracts produced here today, but the situation is far from rosy. If the Rif Range was recently abundant in biodiversity, most local farmers today neglect the rest of the crops, so traditional agricultural practices are disappearing. Intensive cultivation techniques have a long-term impact on soil fertility and the entire ecosystem, while thousands of hectares of forests are burned each year to clear new areas for cannabis plantations. Moreover, this huge industry is still illegal in Morocco, which leads to crime, violence and institutional corruption.
"The fact that we are in 2019 and cannabis cultivation is still considered illegal in Morocco is nothing short of a tragedy," Francis says, "but I remain optimistic, you know? I really hope that Morocco will become the first Muslim country in the world to legalize cannabis."