With the global market continuing to grow, Morocco is now looking to establish a domestic cannabis industry, which could be worth as much as $950 million in its first year of legalization. However, such an initiative won’t be without some small difficulties along the way, with even predicting that the resulting laws may even end up being too complex for a majority of producers to follow.
Long reduced to the rank of a disreputable drug, cannabis is gradually changing its stature in Morocco, and throughout the world. Laws are changing, public acceptance is increasing, and, between therapeutic and industrial uses, outlets are multiplying. Now aware of the windfall that this represents, the government in Morocco is preparing to legalize cannabis in a controlled manner. But the transition is not without its pitfalls.
Many other countries have shown that instituting a cannabis industry is never without its roadblocks and speedbumps, as we have documented here time and time again. Thus, Morocco’s path to cannabis industrialization will likely come with many twists and turns, which you can stay up to date with by downloading our free cannabis news app.
Moroccan Cannabis for Sustainable Buildings
In Ben Guerir, in the province of Marrakech-Safi, Morocco, the Sunimplant project has made its mark. In 2019, this futuristic-looking ecodome was built in just three weeks during the Solar Decathlon, an international architecture competition. In addition to its striking design and energy independence, one element caught the eye of the experts: the façade of Sunimplant was made entirely from materials made from beldia stems, the historical variety of cannabis grown in the Rif, the mountainous region in northern Morocco that runs into the Mediterranean.
“We used 7.5 tonnes of beldia hemp,” says Monika Brümmer. The building is inspired by traditional African bioclimatic architecture. It is the first building to be constructed entirely from this variety. The German architect is no stranger to taking on this bold challenge. Since her graduation project at the Berlin University of the Arts in 1996, hemp has been her favorite material.
In 1999, she founded Cannatektum, a company based in Andalusia that manufactures and markets Cannabric – bricks made from hemp – and other building materials made from this plant, for insulation or roofing. Since 2013, Monika Brümmer has also had a foot on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar.
She is very involved in Morocco, where she co-founded Adrar Nouh – with Abdellatif Adebibe – a cooperative that processes cannabis crop waste on a small scale. But if the virtues of hemp are less and less of a secret, these projects remain strictly framed in experimental protocols.
Despite Appearances, the Cultivation of Cannabis Is Still Forbidden in Morocco
The legality of cannabis cultivation in Morocco is about to change. On December 2, 2020, following a WHO recommendation, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs removed cannabis from the list of drugs without therapeutic effects. Favorable to this downgrading, the Kingdom of Morocco immediately launched a bill to legalize this virtuous cannabis, while maintaining the ban on its recreational use.
The text, which is now being debated in Parliament, has a strong project. It provides for the creation of a national regulatory agency responsible for developing an agricultural and industrial circuit. It talks about “cooperatives,” “certified plants,” and “converting illegal crops that destroy the environment into legal, sustainable activities that generate value and employment.” Two types of crops are involved: one for medical and cosmetic use, the other for industrial use – paper, textiles, and building materials.
Small Arrangements between Friends in Morocco
As a legacy of the colonial era, cannabis crops in the Rif have always enjoyed a special status. After independence, the regime did not find a solution to meet the needs of all regions,” says Khalid Mouna, anthropologist and author of Bled du kif. Economy and power among the Ketama of the Rif. The Rif embodied a Morocco without economic resources. So the cultivation of cannabis was tolerated to a certain extent. Especially as it suited the Europeans: the Rif was the only stable region in terms of emigration. So this economy took root, with a ramification of actors and know-how.
Today, some 55,000 hectares of hemp are said to be grown illegally in the kingdom. Most of it feeds the hashish market, of which Morocco is the world’s leading producer. Monika Brümmer is no longer the only one to praise the qualities of hemp in construction.
Mouatassim Charai and Ahmed Mezrhab, two researchers at Mohammed-Ier University in Oujda, are also working on developing new materials using hemp stalks as bio aggregates. The fibers are considered a useless by-product,” they say. But with this approach, we are ensuring full use of this species in several industries, while creating new green jobs in the region.
To test the properties of their eco-material, called Cannaplaster, they installed and studied it in a test building for several seasons. The result: “We noticed an improvement in insulation, ensuring better thermal comfort in summer and winter. This type of bio-based material also absorbs CO2, improving indoor air quality.
The properties of Monika Brümmer’s Cannabric also show similar properties. And, above all, she has the benefit of hindsight: “After more than two decades, our bricks have proven their hygrothermal comfort and durability. We have built several hundred houses in Spain, some of them three stories high…” Sensing the potential, the teams from the University of Oujda have filed a patent with a view to marketing. “The creation of a start-up will be the spin-off of this project,” say Mouatassim Charai and Ahmed Mezrhab.
In the Starting Blocks
But with legalization, serious challenges lie ahead in the field of both cosmetic and therapeutic manufacturing in Morocco. Intensive cultivation for hashish production has taken its toll on the land. Traditional varieties, such as the famous beldia, which adapts so well to the climate between the mountains and the sea, have often been replaced by genetically modified plants in laboratories in Europe, in order to increase yields and THC, the psychoactive molecule.
Mohammed Fekhaoui, the director of the Scientific Institute in Rabat in Morocco, a specialist in the Rif, paints a bleak picture. “The introduction of these hybrid plants has greatly weakened the ecosystem, as they are voracious in terms of water and fertilizer. Soils have been depleted and biodiversity has suffered. According to him, it could take five years to obtain CBD-based therapeutic products from areas supervised by the authorities.
“The first thing to do is to prevent erosion, fight deforestation, return to traditional water management and preserve the indigenous source, by diversifying crops”. Next, the National Food Safety Office (ONSSPA) in Morocco will have to establish appropriate standards to integrate into a global market with consistent product quality and traceability. And the region will have to be developed, with electrification and road building.
And with all this, we should not forget the local populations spread throughout Morocco. Today, this activity employs up to 800 000 people. Monika Brümmer, together with the Adrar Nouh cooperative, is working in this direction. Five people are already employed full-time. “We want to be ready to produce as soon as the law is passed. And the aim is that the fruit of this work should first benefit local farmers.”
Mohammed Fekhaoui agrees. “The people of the Rif have not been able to benefit from all the development programs that have been put in place over the past fifty years. It would be a tragedy if these farmers continued to be exploited, and this time by multinationals on the lookout.
The stakes are high, but it is worth the effort: according to the British firm Prohibition Partners, if the cannabis trade were to be legalised, Morocco could earn nearly 950 million dollars in the first year.
Cannabis Figures in Morocco
Some statistics on cannabis in Morocco include:
- 700 tons of hashish per year.
- 55,000 ha of cannabis grown illegally.
- Between 90,000 and 140,000 families in the Rif live from this crop.
- The estimated turnover of a grower on the total turnover of the illegal circuit is 4%. This could rise to 12% in the legal circuit.
- $950 million: the revenue that Morocco could generate in the first year of legalisation.
- $55 billion: the global market for therapeutic cannabis by 2025 (Source: Grand View Research).
Will the End of Illegal Cannabis Come Soon?
When asked if cannabis will become legal any time soon, anthropologist Khalid Mouna answers, “it is unlikely.” The law only concerns 30% of the production area. It does not aim to definitively combat the illegal product. Some producers will not be able to comply with the specifications, which are too strict for an activity that has always been informal. Others have no interest in switching. Experience elsewhere in the world has shown that legal and illegal crops end up living together.
(Featured image by Matteo Paganelli via Unsplash)
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First published in The Good Life, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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