Morocco Reports First Legal Cannabis Cultivation Numbers, 294 Tons in 2023

Morocco has recently joined the ranks of regulated cannabis cultivating countries, ending 2023 with a report of its first legal harvest.

While recreational cannabis may still be illegal in the North African country of Morocco, the nation is kicking off a new era of legal cannabis cultivation and export. As the third month of 2024 comes to a close, the country has shared data about its first legal harvest season in 2023.

According to Morocco’s cannabis regulators, National Agency for the Regulation of Cannabis-Related Activities (ANRAC), the country’s first legal harvest in 2023 was 294 metric tons. It involved 32 cooperatives comprising 430 farms spanning 277 hectares in the northern Rif Mountains of Al Houceima, Taounat and Chefchaouen, according to ANRAC.

First reported by Reuters, the United Nations drugs agency also noted that approximately 47 hectares of the Rif Mountains are dedicated to cannabis output. However, that’s only about a third of the amount Morocco had in 2003 due to government crackdowns on illicit operations. 

The region has long been used for cannabis cultivation, where farmers have long used the crop to support their villages.

Morocco Embraces a New Era of Cannabis

The country legalized cannabis cultivation for medical and industrial use in 2021, with the government citing opportunities to boost revenue, create jobs and protect the environment as Morocco pressed forward with the new chapter. The country has been a long-time producer of illicit hashish, but with the highly anticipated opening of the European cannabis market, the hope is that it will soon be a key supplier to its northern neighbor’s blossoming industry.

ANRAC was then created in 2022, made to oversee the entire cannabis system involving growers, cultivators and processors while authorizing and certifying all cannabis cultivation and exportation activities.

Morocco’s first growing season began in June 2023. According to a Morocco World News report, importing seeds for cultivation generally begins in April, though indigenous varieties like the Moroccan landrace Beldia are sown in February — a testament to the country’s commitment to preserving its cannabis history while still catering to the emerging legal market.

The outlet also noted that Morocco granted 609 authorizations last year in its ongoing effort to formalize the new sector, alongside the certification of 2.1 million cannabis seeds in 2023.

Currently, two legal cannabis transformation units are operating with two others waiting for equipment. According to ANRAC, 15 cannabis products are currently in the process of being authorized for medical use. Thinking beyond its own borders, Morocco also awarded 54 export permits in 2023.

Examining the Past to Plan for the Future

Moving ahead, ANRAC is examining applications by 1,500 farmers organized into 130 cooperatives, and cultivation for Beldia has already begun. Cultivation for recreational use is still illegal, though it’s generally tolerated — especially in northern Morocco, where cannabis cultivation has stood as one of the primary economic activities in the region.

The legislation was created with this history in mind, in an attempt to improve the incomes of farmers while protecting them from drug traffickers who widely dominate the illicit trade and export of cannabis. While some farmers have embraced the change, others are more resistant and remain loyal to the members of the illicit drug trade who helped them to retain a steady income in past years.

It reflects a broader resistance to the change in the Rif region, given its rich cannabis-specific history, and it may take longer than just a couple years to get everyone on board.

“Cannabis has been in place in the region for centuries, and changing it from one day to the next is going to create resistance,” Khalid Mouna, a professor at Moulay Ismail University who studies Morocco’s cannabis economy, told Bloomberg last year.

While there are certain barriers for farmers, like upfront costs, administrative hurdles and challenging quality standards for small businesses and cultivators, Morocco has its fair share of advantages. Hanway Associates Co-Founder Alastair Moore told Bloomberg that Morocco already has an established cannabis reputation, potentially giving its products a built-in “stamp of legitimacy” as they are exported to new markets.

Still, experts like Moore argue that it’s unlikely Morocco will reach its full potential so long as cultivation is limited to medical and industrial markets.

“The real opportunity for Morocco in the long term is going to be in recreational because that’s where their brand is,” Moore said.

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