Law to legalise cannabis in Morocco passes upper house
The bill aims to improve farmers' income and create promising and fixed employment opportunities via the cultivation of cannabis.
During a plenary session, the bill passed with a majority of 41 votes in favor and 11 votes against, but still has to pass through Morocco's House of Representatives before it can be ratified.
Minister of the Interior Abdelouafi Laftit championed the bill, arguing that it would benefit Morocco's population areas affected by the illicit cultivation of cannabis, according to a statement published by the Moroccan government.
"The community is now increasingly aware that the pure repressive approach adopted by the global drug control system has limited alternative development programmes and has not made it possible to resolve the economic, social and environmental problems encountered by countries producers of this plant, especially those in the South," it read.
Laftit said field studies have demonstrated the "catastrophic" effects of illicit cultivation of cannabis on the health of citizens and soil pollution due to deforestation and overexploitation.
Laftit also indicated that the bill mainly aims to improve the financial situation for farmers who find themselves vulnerable to sharp falls in prices for illicit cannabis.
Licit cultivation of the plant could double the income from the crop and preserve their rights and dignity, politicians say.
Cannabis, known as "kif" in Morocco (pleasure in Arabic), was officially banned by authorities in 1954 but tolerated as its cultivation provides a livelihood for around 60,000 families, according to unofficial estimates.
State regulation will improve farmers' living conditions and protect them from illegal drug trafficking networks, the government has said.
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) last year, the North African country is the world's biggest producer of cannabis resin, or hashish.
Morocco's production of cannabis was estimated at more than 700 tonnes in a 2020 study by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime.
Figures released by Moroccan authorities in March showed that 55,000 hectares (around 136,000 acres) of land, mostly in the northern mountainous Rif region, were used to illicitly grow hashish in 2019.
Legalising cannabis for therapeutic use will position Morocco in a global market that is growing at an annual rate of 30 percent, and by 60 percent a year in Europe, according to Morocco's interior ministry.