Finally the debate on cannabis legalisation in Morocco is becoming a reality. The second TV channel of national Moroccan Television (2M) on Wednesday 3 December 2008 broadcasted a live debate on the various possible approaches towards cannabis cultivation in Morocco, entitled « Cannabis and haschisch : Which approach to take?.
By: Souliman Sbai
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The purpose of the debate was to inform the public on the reality behind cannabis cultivation and to try to assess the governmental strategies to erradicate this cultivation and the fight against the smuggling of hashish, by putting these questions : to which degree have alternative development projects been able to support the populations in replacing their illicit "traditions" ? Is it possible to direct the cultivation of cannabis towards therapeutical and industrial uses and, in a general way, towards an alternative economy in these regions? What is the role of regional amd international co-operation in this domain?
Participants in this debate were Khalid Zerouali, executive director of migration and customs, Chakib Al Khayari, president of the Association for Human Rights in the Rif region, Pr. Mohamed Hmamouchi, director of the National Institute of Medicinal Plants, Hamid El Farouki, director of development at the Agency for Promotion and Development of the Northern Region and Abderrahman Merzouki, researcher.
Erradication of cannabis fields
In their interventions, Khalid Zerouali and Hamid El Farouki evaluated the erradication operations in cannabis producing regions in the North of Morocco. They announced that production had diminished with 55 %, a figure that Chakib Al Khayari characterised as "non-realistic". He informed about new cannabis fields that have not yet been counted, located in the north of Ketama towards Al-Jabha and the rural community of Beni Abdallah (35 km west of Al Hoceima), and this same view was supported by Abderrahman Merzouki. The latter denounced several violations of human rights against farmers whose fields were erradicated, and he requested the inmediate replacement of this security approach by a social approach.
On the other hand, Khalid Zerouali declared that erradication of cannabis had been successfull in the Larach region that was declared to be without cannabis. Operations in Taounate and Chaouen will soon obtain the same results. He also clarified that cannabis in these regions has taken over the cultivation of licit productive crops and has caused deforestation, which other participants confirmed as well. All expressed the wish not to let the same thing happen again, in order to protect the environment and enhance food security in the region.
In relation to this, Chakib Al Khayari mentioned some efforts that the Moroccan state had made since 1980 in collaboration with UN agencies. The objective was to replace cannabis cultivation with other licit crops, but although some spare profits have been made, the awaited results have not been obtained. This has been reported in the assessments of these projects, which show that the experiences of alternative development projects in the Moroccan Rif Region are limited, not to say that they have failed. This failure has been caused by economic and cultural problems that are not taken into consideration in the design and implementation of these projects.
Al Khayari insisted that it is impossible to erradicate cannabis in Ketama because of the cultural dimension of this plant that remounts to centuries ago, even before the Rif was invaded by the Arabs, as even in the moussem of Tidghin the porters of the Koran pray to God to protect their sacred plant.
In the same sense Khalid Zerouali declared that the State in all its approaches and strategies should take the cultural context into consideration. This context should never be ignored. Also the lack of inftrastructure is a real problem for the success of alternative crops, so other activities that may be profitable such as mountain tourism should be developed.
On the other hand, Pr. Hmamouchi showed that there are real difficulties for developing alternative economies in the regions of Ketama, due to the total lack of basic infrastructure as a result of the historical marginalisation of the Rif region in general. He proposed to make use of the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH) in order to create projects that may help cannabis regions, both traditional and new, to find a way out of their isolation and marginalisation.
After having discussed several problems related to alternative development projects based on cannabis erradication, Chakib Al Khayari proposed the idea of legalising cannabis as the only practical solution for the historical cannabis regions, insisting on a legal framework that would regulate these plantations, in view of the results of scientific research into the medical, industrial and human development fields.
This idea was supported by Pr. Hmamouchi who mentioned some applications of cannabis in the medical and industrial field, and insisted on the obligation to install a legal framework for the exploitation of this plant for the interest of the country.
Finally, Khalid Zerouali appreciated this idea for the historical cannabis regions and agreed to discuss it in a more profound way with the participation of civil society, in an effort to make an end to illicit drug trafficking.