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TIME IS FOR DECRIMINALIZATION OF CANNABIS IN MOROCCO

Brahim Mansouri
2018 / 10 / 29

NB: Dr. Brahim MANSOURI is professor of economics at the Faculty of Juridical, Economic and Social Sciences of Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech (Morocco). The author is grateful for earlier helpful comments from Ms. Houda MANSOURI, consultant in finance and risk, Paris, France.



INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

Time is for deregulation and decriminalization of drugs in many countries in all continents. Controls on and criminalization of drugs resulted everywhere in reverse effects: increasing consumption due to climbing demand and law violation, endangering crimes across countries, and poverty and social exclusion for small farmers, while drug intermediaries and barons continue to make exorbitant wealth. The observed shifting to deregulation and decriminalization of drugs elsewhere may explain the tendency of governments to accumulate a kind of “social learning”, standing for governments’ pattern to learn from past mistakes and slippages over the long period of drug regulation and criminalization.

Morocco, a well-known producer of cannabis and its derivatives, has reinforced regulation and criminalization against production and consumption of such plant, especially since the independence of the country in 1956. As in other drug-producing countries, imposed regulation and criminalization of cannabis have induced perverse effects on crime as well as economic and social fronts. In such a detrimentally hard situation, our present memorandum invites the Moroccan government to deregulate and decriminalize the production and marketing of cannabis, and attempts to explain why and how well this can be conducted to serve the strategic interests of the Moroccan economy and society, as well as those of our neighboring countries and other nations in this more and more globalized world.

The remainder of this memorandum is organized as follows. Section 1 outlines a summarized historical overview of the production and consumption of cannabis in Morocco. Section 2 presents some available data on the production and marketing of cannabis during the era of regulation and criminalization. Section 3 explains why and how well the cannabis deregulation and decriminalization may be conducted. Finally, Section 4 presents some policy implications and concludes.


1. PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION OF CANNABIS IN MOROCCO: A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

A variety of existing historical literature retraces the cultivation of cannabis back to the reign of the Moroccan Saadian Dynasty of the sixteenth century. Due to trade and cultural exchanges, agriculture in the cannabis sector was channeled to Morocco, especially to the northern region, from some Asian countries where it was originately discovered and domesticated, notably in India, Afghanistan and Persia.

Textbooks and chronicles from Moroccan historians and foreign travelers reported facts regarding the production and consumption of cannabis in the northern region of the Rif and elsewhere in Morocco. At that time, because of ambiguous religious advises about consumption of drugs, and the State failure at that time, regulation of and control over the production and marketing of cannabis were largely inadequate. Because of topographical and climate features of the Moroccan northern region, cultivation of cannabis, as a major source of income for local populations, became a structural phenomenon.

During the Spanish occupation of the Moroccan northern region over the first half of the twentieth century, the occupying authorities, destabilized by guerrillas as triggered by the Amazigh local populations, and politically willing to let people consume drugs, played a major role in expanding and developing the production, exportation and consumption of cannabis.

Just after the independence of the country in 1956, the Moroccan government, forced by pressures from European countries and the international community, finally institutionalized the criminalization against production and consumption of cannabis. As one can understand, this sudden post-independence decision, since it negatively affects the standards of life in the region, largely explained why local populations triggered dramatic insurrections widely repressed by the new political regime at the end of the 1950s.


2. IN SPITE OF CRIMINILIZATION AND PERSISTENT CONTROLS, PRODUCTION AND MARKETING OF CANNABIS ARE INCREASING

Criminalization of cannabis, even when coupled with efforts from the government during recent years to encourage farmers to produce alternative plants such as corn, olives and amends in the framework of the Development Plan for the Northern Region, has not succeeded in stopping production and marketing of cannabis (Zijlma, 2017). Local consumption and illegal export of the Moroccan cannabis have even expanded over the past recent years, as driven by persistent demand in Europe and neighboring countries in North Africa and elsewhere. This dramatic expansion occurred in spite of the “moralization campaign” conducted by the former powerful Minister of Interior, Driss Basri, in 1995, just after the deceased King Hassan II’s participation to the UNO General Assembly in the USA, where his seat was willingly placed next to the representative of the well-known drug-producing country of Colombia.

In spite of criminalization and “seasonal” controls, drug intermediaries and powerful barons continue to accumulate more wealth while the poor in the cannabis sector are more and more impoverishing. Indeed, in line with recent reliable data, Morocco is considered since 2002, as the first supplier of cannabis in the World, 72 percent of the seized cannabis in the World comes from Morocco, and the revenue from the cannabis sector counts for about 13 percent of GDP, thanks especially to exports of cannabis and its derivatives, including Hashish (UNODC, 2010, Ould Elkabla, 2013, Sawt Al-Ahrar, 2013, Al-Wahda, 2013). Revenue from the production and marketing of this well-known plant turns to form the major source of income for about more than 1000 000 persons, even more according to other data sources (Middle-East Monitor, 2017). Among these people, about 50 000 are currently suffering in prisons and nearly 20 000 are still evading and “wanted” by the judiciary system. With less power and interference with politicians and officials, farmers in the cannabis sector receive just small pieces of the cake, which largely enriches intermediaries and barons because they are more organized in strong networks, and, because of the inter-connection of interests between the drug barons and the political regime. According to Ould Elkabla (2013), farmers ‘enjoy’ only 214 million dollars from a total of 13 billion dollars of the total cannabis revenue. Basic mathematics may be useful to understand how the profit in the sector is accumulating across intermediaries and barons: starting from an “under-poverty line profit” for our poor farmers, profits gradually climb across intermediaries and barons, starting from the first purchasing operation of the raw cannabis until the production of the processed drug goods and their local marketing and exports.


3. TOWARD A DECRIMINALIZATION OF CANNABIS: WHY AND HOW WELL?

The styled facts, as outlined in section 2, reveal undoubtedly that the multiple criminalization acts and controls have generated reverse effects. Even with efforts from the government to encourage farmers to shift from the cultivation of cannabis to other alternative farming activities, the criminalization and control pressures have resulted in mitigated effects. Production and marketing of cannabis are still flourishing with a contribution to the current national economy of about 15 percent of GDP, largely exceeding the proportions to GDP of about 7 percent for tourism and only 6 percent for Moroccan Diaspora’s remittances (workers’ remittances). Such strong contribution of the cannabis sector to the national economy has never been beneficial to farmers who still suffer from poverty, precariousness, social exclusion, analphabetism and alarming health conditions.

All of us should know that the international law, including international conventions within the United Nations System, recognize the people’ right to exploit and benefit from their own natural resources, depending on the existing specific topographic and climate characteristics (The Economist, 2017). Well, the cannabis-based agriculture in the northern region of Morocco has become a structural phenomenon over time. As revealed by recent experiments on the ground, cultivation of alternative plants in the region cannot generate comparative outcomes in terms of yield per hectare and profitability. Moreover, the cannabis sector is seen as a real balancing device for the Moroccan economy. To highlight this reality, let us take the following expressive example: with 15 percent of GDP as a contribution of the cannabis to the economy, with a “lion’s share” for exports, the sector largely contributes to the alleviation of the balance of payments current account deficit. Since the government is aware of this reality, it tends to conduct only “seasonal” and provisional controls on production, consumption and illegal export of cannabis and its derivatives. In many points in time, the government, motivated by the interconnection of its interests with the powerful drug barons, remains quasi-blind in front of the production, consumption and export of cannabis. Influenced by pressures from countries and elsewhere, the Moroccan government tends to run a “social hypocrisy” policy: punctual controls sometimes, but often with “closed yeas” afterwards. Such policy often helps to alleviate the external financial constraint on the domestic economy.

In conformity with our developments above, true criminalization and controls would had resulted in more detrimental multifaceted effects on the Moroccan economy and society with more endangering poverty rates, social exclusion and macroeconomic imbalances. Assuming that the government can continue to conduct criminalization and control processes with more effectiveness on the ground, the economic, financial and social impact to bear would have been more detrimental. The optimal option, as in other countries, will be to decriminalize and decontrol production and marketing of cannabis, which may be considered as the “green gold” for the country. As Mehdi Bensaid, member of the Moroccan “Modernity and Authenticity Party”, argued: “Morocco will gain too much if it legalizes the cannabis cultivation and regulate its use. The cannabis is less harmful than hallucinating products´-or-ing pills and it can generate important economic outcomes for the country. It’s time to take advantage of this potential to export legally to countries where its use has been decriminalized” (Telquel Journal, 2013).

How can the decriminalization and decontrol work? What will be the expected outcomes for the Moroccan economy and society? Like some two hundred under-exploited medicinal and industrial plants growing in the country, the cannabis, in line with recent scientific research findings, can be valorized in a large scale to produce medicines and textile processed goods. In this framework, it is interesting to note that the Moroccan Coalition for the Use of Cannabis for Medicine and Industry (Coalition Marocaine pour l’utilisation du Cannabis à des Fins Médicinales et Industrielles ) has already presented the draft law on cannabis cultivation----;---- but it is still waiting for approval to be implemented (Courrier International, 2013).

Shifting the production and consumption of such strategic natural resource from drug uses to pharmaceutical and textile destinations will therefore help to better valorize the plant and hence to benefit the agriculture as well as the industry. As the famous Chinese leader Mao Zedong argued: “the national economy should walk on its two legs, namely agriculture and industry”. In such a way, factors of production (labor and capital) will move from other sectors toward the cannabis brunch. This will lead to an increasing supply of cannabis, which will even explode with increasing foreign -dir-ect investment. With increasing demand from the pharmaceutical and textile industrial sectors, the whole price index of the raw cannabis will turn closely around a well-remunerating equilibrium price level.

The expected increasing demand for the processed medicines and textile products would result in an increasing cannabis average price. This will help to improve the standards of life for the farmers and their families, and to alleviate unemployment in the agricultural as well as the industrial sectors.

When defending the decriminalization of cannabis, we don’t nevertheless defend the decontrol and consumption of drugs. To efficiently design and implement a decriminalization policy devoted to a legal valorization of cannabis, we propose to create a “Cannabis Government Board” responsible for awarding licenses for production of raw cannabis, cannabis-based medicines and textile products, as well as for the stocking of the plant and the medicines to buy to patients on the basis of doctors’ -dir-ectives. This will require a strong state capacity and credibility, and the institutionalization of such government board will rely on larger public debate. In the case of drug illegal uses, the consumers will no longer be subjected to the criminal law but to well designed correctional system. This system would not be devoted to jail drug users but to raise awareness about drugs and correct consumers accordingly.


4. SOME POLICY IMPLICATIONS AND CONCLUDING REMARKS

The "war on drugs", as declared in Morocco for many years, seems to be unwinnable because it corresponds to an old ‘heroic age’ when criminalization laws and policies could have great impact because the prevailing instruments to circumvent regulatory rules at that time were not as developed as nowadays. In fact, the true war against people comes from the drug barons who glean colossal wealth from cannabis. As in other countries, time has come for Morocco to rethink drugs.

As an independent nation, Morocco, in accordance with existing international conventions, has the full right to efficiently exploit his natural resources in a valorizing and legal way. Instead of continuing to criminalize production, marketing and consumption of cannabis, the ideal strategy would be to design and implement a decriminalization policy aspiring to valorizing the plant through production of medicines and textile.

In a “bridging research and policy” perspective, while existing studies reveal that such valorization policy would be wealth-generating, other research studies are still needed for better valorization of the plant in a large scale. Since criminalization has resulted in reverse effects in terms of crime, poverty and social exclusion, the proposed decriminalization of production and marketing of cannabis may be useful to better develop the agricultural as well as industrial sectors in a legal way. In a world where the role of the state is questioned in time of economic and financial crisis, time is for enhancing the state capacity and credibility in order to better manage natural resources in a way that is suitable for sustainable human development. The Moroccan government is invited to do so instead of continuing to adopt “social hypocrisy” measures with higher costs in terms of economic and social well-being.


BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES

- Al-Wahda. (2013). “The Regulation of Cannabis in Morocco”, Al-Wahda Electronic Journal, May, 2nd.

- Courrier International. (2013). “Cannabis Vu du Maroc : Le kif ne vous tue pas, la faim, si”, September, 27th.

- Middle-East Monitor. (2017). “Morocco Remains World’s Largest Cannabis Producer”, Middle-East Monitor, July, 3rd.

- Ould Elkabla, Driss. (2013). "Prospects on the Cannabis Cultivation in Morocco" (Article in Arabic) : ÊÞäíä ÒÑÇÚÉ ÇáßíÝ Ýí ÇáãÛÑÈ: Åáì Ãíä¿, Alhiwar Almoutamaddin (Modern Debate).

- Sawt Al-Ahrar. (2013). “Morocco Seeks to Regulate the Agriculture of Cannabis to Avoid International Pressures” (Article in Arabic), Sawt Al-Ahrar (Algerian Journal), July, 16th.

- Telquel. (2013). “Mehdi Bensaid: Le Maroc doit Légaliser le Cannabis”, Interview with Mehdi Bensaid, Telquel (Review), October, 4th.

- The Economist. (2017). "Some Arab governments are rethinking harsh cannabis laws", April, 12th.

- UNODC. (2010). Rapport Annuel de l’UNODC, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Vienna, Austria.

- Zijlma, Anouk. (2017). "Buying and Smoking Hashish (Kif) in Morocco". TripSavvy, July, 31th , retrieved: August, 5th, 2018.








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