Morocco government backs legalising hashish for medical use
Parliament, however, still needs to give its final approval to the legislation.
The proposed law calls for the creation of a national agency to regulate the industry, and for the establishment of cooperatives that would grow "certified" cannabis plants.
The move would "reconvert illicit" cannabis plantations into "legal and durable activities that generate jobs" in the medical, cosmetic and industrial sectors, according to the text of the draft legislation.
"It is the end of a political taboo and caps efforts launched some 10 years ago" by authorities, said sociologist Khaled Mouna.
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.
The official MAP news agency said, citing unnamed experts, that Morocco has a lot to gain from legalising hashish for medical use due to "the ancestral know-how of farmers, a propitious ecosystem".
It also noted Morocco's proximity to Europe, where medical cannabis is widely used.
Legalising cannabis for medical 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 Morocco's interior ministry.
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State regulation will improve farmers' living conditions and protect them from illegal drug trafficking networks, the ministry had said.
Morocco's production of cannabis was estimated at more than 700 tonnes in a 2020 study by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime.
In its 2020 report UNODC said: "Morocco... continues to be the most frequently mentioned source country for cannabis resin worldwide" followed by Afghanistan.
Figures released by Moroccan authorities this week showed that 55,000 hectares (around 136,000 acres) of land in the northern mountainous Rif region were being used to illicitly grow hashish in 2019.
Authorities did not give more recent estimates but in 2018 production had taken place on an estimated on 47,500 hectares of land.
The Rif mountains, a marginalised region which was rocked by protests in 2016 and 2017 demanding development, is known for its illicit cannabis plantations.
The most fabled ones can be found in the Ketama region, which lies at the foot of a mountain range.
According to the semi-official news website 360, Ketama is expected to be chosen by authorities as a region where cannabis production will be regulated for medical use.
This was expected to bring financial relief to farmers in the Rif, who could earn some 12 percent in revenues from a legal business compared with four percent when growing hashish was illegal, said MAP.
Cannabis, known as "kif" in Morocco (pleasure in Arabic), was banned by authorities in 1954 but tolerated as its cultivation provides a livelihood for 80,000 to 120,000 families, according to unofficial estimates.
Agencies contributed to this report.