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Morocco to Shake Things Up With Legalized Medical Cannabis

Written by Sarah Friedman

Morocco looks to be the next country to join the African green rush. With a bill up for approval next week in parliament, Morocco hopes to give itself an economic push with this new legislation to legalize medical cannabis. Considering how much it already exports illegally, this legalization could really shake up the global medical cannabis industry.

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Morocco and cannabis

Morocco is a 100% cannabis illegal country at the moment. Morocco’s Criminal Code states that offenders may be placed in treatment facilities, rather than go to prison, that assets can be taken away from offenders, and that possession may incur punishment. Use crimes can incur up to about 10 years in prison, though most do not receive such a sentence.

The sale of cannabis is illegal in Morocco, but the drug is ubiquitous, and used frequently. Sold illegally as hashish under the name ‘kif’, it can be found quite easily in most big cities, with Chefchaouen, in the Rif region being the unofficial ‘capital of kif’. It is often smoked out of a hooka. Cultivation is illegal, and offenders face both prison time and fines. Trafficking is also predictably illegal with punishments of up to 30 years in prison and €60,000 in fines. Industrial hemp is illegal to grow.

Medical cannabis is currently illegal in Morocco, though this could change soon. Most of the push for a change here has to do with economic recovery. Since 2013, different political parties have pushed for legislation to either legalize a medicinal industry, or decriminalize the whole hash industry altogether. In 2014, an entire legalization bill was put forth by the opposition party in parliament, though it was never approved.

medical cannabis legalization

As far as CBD, since Morocco does not differentiate between CBD and the rest of the plant, CBD products are not legal in Morocco either. However, it should be remembered that Morocco is a signee of both the Single Convention on Narcotic Substances, and the Convention on Psychotropic substances, and that cannabis was just cleared for medical use by a recent vote to remove cannabis from schedule IV of the Single Convention treaty.

Is Morocco really the biggest cannabis exporter?

Morocco is quite possibly the biggest cannabis exporter, but certainly not legally! When looking at legal exports of cannabis oil, for example, Morocco is not that high on the list. According to, Morocco came in 14th place for cannabis oil exports in 2019, however, it was also noted that Morocco increased its exports of cannabis oils by 218.1% since 2015, which is a pretty solid increase on the legal front.

This doesn’t count for illegal exports though, and when it comes to illegal exports, Morocco seems to be #1. Both the #1 illegal supplier to Europe, and the #1 exporter globally of cannabis resins. According to a 2019 article by BBC Arabic, one million kilograms of hash is produced yearly in Morocco, with a value of approximately €8 billion.

Roughly one million people survive off this illegal industry. It is estimated by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that in 2017, Morocco globally supplied about 36,000 tons of cannabis, mostly as resin. The same report estimated that Mexico – another large illegal cannabis exporter – had supplied as little as 5,000 tons in comparison.

Not only does Morocco continue to export massive amounts of cannabis, but the potency of the resin produced has steadily increased since 2009, according to the EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction), in its 2019 European Drug Report. This indicates that Moroccan black market cannabis growers have been improving on production techniques, and using higher-potency cannabis strains.

How can the size of an illegal black market be gauged? One way is by looking at arrests and seizures of products. A massive 27.3 tons of illegal cannabis was seized by Moroccan police in July 2019, making for a global record. In 2017, 400 tons of cannabis was seized altogether. This number surpassed seizures from any other African country, and came close to matching all resin seizures from the entirety of Europe.

Riff mountains Morocco

What does this industry mean to Morocco? When an entire million people are subsisting off an industry in a country of 37 million people, it’s a pretty big deal. The majority of cannabis farming takes place across the north of the country, with the epicenter being the Rif mountains. Since cannabis farming is illegal, journalists are not welcome, and foreigners with cameras are likely to get chased out of the area. Farmers fear the wrath of both traffickers they deal with, and government entities, for communicating with the press.

The Rif region has been the site of protests, mostly based around socioeconomic disparities. Cannabis farmers have protested arrest warrants against growers and demanded annulments of these warrants. Issues concerning drinking water scarcity have also come up, with cannabis growers having a harder time voicing concerns due to fears of being shut down. Due to the general lack of infrastructure and options, local farmers are constantly stuck between a rock and a hard place, in fear of incarceration on one end, and in fear of the traffickers with whom they do business on the other. And no other avenues to earn an income.

Morocco and a new medical cannabis industry

With economic issues to consider – some stemming from the Covid pandemic, and a desire to recoup lost revenue due to illegal markets, Morocco is ready to legalize medical cannabis. On February 25th, 2021, the Moroccan government announced a new bill which would legalize cannabis for production, exportation, and farming for industrial and therapeutic purposes. Parliament is expected to pass the bill next week, and there don’t seem to be obstacles in the way of this. The draft legislation aims to create ‘cooperatives’ where farmers can cultivate their crops and then sell them to international companies for processing.

The draft bill estimated Morocco’s illicit cannabis market to be twice as big as the $8 billion+ approximated by the UN, and estimates that profits are closer to $15 billion. The government estimated that in the current situation, farmers receive about one half billion, while literally $14.5 billion goes to traffickers and organized crime groups.

A leaked version of the draft legislation indicates it is meant to help local farmers and shows there is no intention for mass production of cannabis throughout Morocco, but rather for it to be kept in six locations within the Rif mountains territory. According to the bill, farmers will be required to gain an authorization, live in the correct region, be of legal age, and have Moroccan citizenship.

Like most bills of its kind, it also proposes an agency to oversee regulation of the industry. This would be the National Agency for the Regulation of Indian Hemp Activities. Only Moroccan registered companies would be able to apply for import, export, and marketing licenses. It is expected that all details will be released assuming the bill passes next week.


This bill comes on the heels of Morocco’s vote in the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs to remove cannabis from Schedule IV, making it legal for medical use. It also comes at a time when the legal European medical cannabis industry is booming, with imports in 2019 in the neighborhood of €230-€280 million, which Morocco completely missed out on. Canada is positioning itself to be a top supplier for European legal cannabis imports, but a change in Moroccan law can certainly throw a wrench into this current trajectory.

Even just capturing the German market would be massive. The German market is the biggest in Europe, with Germany importing nearly 10,000 kilos of cannabis in 2020 alone. Being the main supplier for this kind of market is a coveted position, and it might very well be a showdown between Canada and Morocco to win supply deals in Germany, and the rest of the growing European market.


Africa is a continent that has seen a lot of rapidly changing laws when it comes to cannabis, often constituting entire reversals of policy done very quickly to enter into the global medical cannabis market. Assuming the bill in Morocco passes next week, it will join Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, and other African nations which have already legalized medical cannabis. And given its massive cannabis cultivation and exportation ability, Morocco stands to be one of the countries to gain most from the new trend of medical cannabis legalization.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.