The Riff Mountains, a secluded area in northern Morocco, has since become the main breeding ground for cannabis - if you wish, the "Parvati Valley" of Africa.
For years, Morocco has been the world’s leading producer and exporter of cannabis products.
In fact, if you happened to visit in a coffee shop in Amsterdam or the Cannabis Club in Barcelona during the last few years, and enjoyed a sweet toke that did not come in the form of raw buds – there is a 40% chance that you smoked Moroccan produce.
The cannabis cultivating industry is so significant to Morocco that it is believed to be approximately one million Moroccans who earn their living directly from the industry.
How did Morocco win the title of “World Hash Capital”? Well, it all started with the Arab invasion…
A short history of Hash in Morocco
During the seventh and eighth centuries, the first invasions of the Arab armies took place in the Maghreb. At the end of a number of difficult struggles, the Arabs overcame the African armies and were able to oppress the local population and Islamize them.
But the Arab troops did not bring with them to Morocco only their religious faith. Apart from Islam, North Africa was exposed for the first time to an abundance of new goods and agricultural crops not yet seen in the region – such as cannabis.
From the eighth century to the 19th, more than a thousand years passed during which countless struggles and wars were fought in Morocco, leaders rose and fell, empires were built and crumbled, but the local cannabis industry did not go anywhere.
The Riff Mountains, a secluded area in northern Morocco, has since become the main breeding ground for cannabis – if you wish, the “Parvati Valley” of Africa.
The Europeans take over the Moroccan Cannabis market
Just before entering the 20th century, the Barbarians received official approval for their hashish consumption hobby.
This happened in 1890 when Sultan Hassan the first 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.
To this end, the Sultan issued a special permit to several individual villages to grow and sell cannabis products.
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:
– Establishment of a local police force
– Improving tax collection
– Establishment of a new bank
One of the clauses on the margins of the agreement stated that the cannabis market in Morocco would undergo a series of regulations –
But the Europeans are not fools and within the same “regulations” it is determined that Moroccan farmers would 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 uninterrupted for a number of years until, in 1920, Abd al-Karim al-Khatabi came to the region and succeeded in uniting the Barbarian tribes in the Rif Mountains against the colonialists from Europe.
At first, the revolt was a huge success and for five whole years the barbarians even managed to establish their own independent state: “The Reef Republic”.
Ironically, when Reef residents were free from foreign rule, they were forbidden to grow cannabis, especially since Mr. Al-Khatabi claimed it was a practice that was contrary to Islam.
The Riff Republic held for only five years until the Spanish have had enough and together with the French they decided to raid the area with an enormous force of nearly half a million soldiers.
In the end, al-Khatabi was forced to surrender to the colonialists and he was exiled to a remote island near Madagascar. With the collapse of the Republic of Reef, Al-Khatabi ban on cannabis cultivation came to an end and the local hashish industry started to recover.
Congratulations: Morocco is independent!
Morocco gained full independence only in 1956. The then ruler of Morocco, King Mohammed V, announced new reforms in the country, including a sweeping ban on the cultivation and sale of cannabis.
The renewal of the ban on the hashish industry has created a dispute that continues until this day between the Moroccan government and the barbaric farmers in the Rif Mountains.
The barbarians claim that during a visit the king made in the region, he made an “oral agreement” with them that he exempted them from the ban and allowed 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 it and returned to Europe, but a few years later a completely different kind of European reached the Maghreb, which changed the local cannabis industry forever – the hippies.
“Moroccans are very proud of their hashish”
In order to understand the Europeans’ influence on the cannabis market in Morocco, we traveled north to the city of Tetouan to catch up with a European contact who has been cooperating with the local farmers for many years.
Despite the great openness on the subject, the cultivation of cannabis in Morocco is still considered a criminal offense. In fact, to date, there are almost 50,000 growers that have a pending arrest warrant against them. For this reason, farmers on a commercial scale in Morocco are very suspicious and do not like Westerners coming to their plots with a camera.
Francis, a French cultivator, agreed to take us to visit the Cannabis fields of one of his partners near the village of Qatma, at the Rif mountains.
“The Moroccans are very proud of their hashish and are very proud of the local genetics here,” Kevin tells us on our way 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 resin production and relatively low THC.”
The “Bildya” landrace was the most common genetics in Morocco for many years, this hegemony lasted until the happy sixties, during which came to the country a great influx of hippie tourists along with rock idols such as 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 manage to adjust well to the Moroccan climate, but eventually, it got crossed with the “Beldia”, and together they created the “Khardalla” – a hybrid that was more resistant and produced a relatively high amount of resin.
Reaching 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 is no less than revolutionary.
THC in the Moroccan hash has multiplied by 5 to 10 times
“The hybrid varieties demanded more water than the older strains,” says Kevin, “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 system, in some of the farms, one could see closed greenhouses with artificial lighting, giving farmers the option of timing the cannabis flowering, and allowing them to preserve selected genetics. But in addition to upgrading the cultivation, the Moroccans upgraded their post-harvest operation.
“At some point, the Moroccan farmers began to employ Europeans who specialize in producing cannabis extracts.” Kevin explained, “the traditional method of sifting hash with silk has given way to advanced techniques such as closed-loop extraction with CO2 BHO, 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% THC. But since the 2000s, the THC content in the hashish from Morocco has multiplied by 5 to 10 times!
“The fact that Cannabis cultivation is still illegal in Morocco is nothing less of a tragedy”
There is no doubt that the cannabis industry in Morocco has come a long way from the traditional hashish period of time to the oils and extracts produced here today, but the situation is far from rosy:
If the Reef Range was recently abundant in biodiversity, the situation today is that most local farmers neglect the rest of the crops and therefore traditional agricultural practices disappear.
In addition, 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.
And perhaps the biggest problem is that this huge industry is still illegal in Morocco – which leads to crime, violence, and institutional corruption.
“The fact that we are reaching 2019 and Cannabis cultivation is still considered illegal in Morocco is nothing less of a tragedy,” tells us Kevin “But I remain optimistic, you know? I really hope that Morocco will become the first Muslim country in the world to legalize Cannabis.”
By Ziv Genesove
Published originally in Weed World Magazine issue 140
Weed World is of the understanding that the author has permission to use the images in this article.