One of the most interesting things about watching the German transition to medical cannabis reform was the speed at which the internal controls were launched once the political decision to proceed was made. This included the creation of a cannabis agency—even if it was a subdivision of BfArM—the German federal agency in charge of medicines and medical devices. This was set up almost simultaneously as the final vote authorizing legalization happened in the Bundestag in March 2017. Morocco is clearly following a similar path.
Last May, the Parliament voted to make at least medical cannabis legal and try to capitalize on the foreign income that could be earned in Europe from exports. This March the government formalized that decision.
Now the government has formally launched the agency rather than just approving its existence on paper. The group met for an inaugural kick-off last week. The topics on the agenda were approvals of the organization chart and this year’s budget.
The agency will control all stages of the production chain—from cultivation and certification to marketing. It will also have to set up processing and manufacturing cooperatives—exclusively comprised of local growers.
The Impact of Cannabis in Morocco
Morocco will be entering a global legal industry that is estimated by multiple sources to grow over 20% this year. Yet while the formal guidelines and controls are new, cannabis cultivation is nothing new to this part of the world.
What will be interesting to watch is the impact of Moroccan sourced medical grade in Europe. Not to mention where it ends up.
Here is why.
Formal, E.U. GMP certified cannabis has to meet specific pharmaceutical spec before it can be classified as a “medicine.” This starts with indoor cultivation. Yet it is precisely this standard which will be so hard for most cultivators in Morocco to actually meet.
Does this mean that the Moroccan experiment is doomed before it starts? Not necessarily.
The idea behind the legislation is to deter illegal cultivation in the Rif Mountains and set up legal channels to create not only jobs but valuable foreign income from exports. Yet few farmers can afford to build the infrastructure needed for the same—and foreign investors are hard to come by. This is a similar problem that faces the rest of the developing world as countries examine whether the industry will be a boon or a curse.
This also means, by definition, that as a result, most of the crop coming out of Morocco, even “legally” is highly likely not to make the strict European medical grade.
What gives? Is this an economic development project doomed to fail?
There are several answers to this question, most of which are very positive.
The first is that while Moroccan medical cannabis flower may not be authorized to enter the German market directly as a pharmaceutical, the path to this as well as other E.U. markets (including Eastern Europe) may look similar to medical cannabis already being sourced from other parts of the world, starting with Latin America. This includes being recertified in a third European country, like Portugal (and for a price) before it is allowed to cross any more E.U. borders, including Germany’s.
While this is a highly controversial practice, don’t expect it to disappear any time soon, particularly given the transition to recreational now in the offing aus Deutschland.
Beyond this, there are also countries in Eastern Europe, starting with the Czech Republic, which are not so rigorous in their import requirements for “medical” cannabis.
Then there is the extract market. It is going to be challenging for the entire industry to certify that the biomass used to create medical extracts is GMP. It is hard enough for flower now.
And don’t forget, there is the pending discussion about Germany’s recreational market.
A New Recreational Grade of Cannabis?
While it is likely that German legislators—if not the three established companies which obtained authorization to cultivate as of the formal cultivation tender—would want Deutschland’s new recreational cannabis to be sourced domestically, it is unlikely that they will be able to meet that demand. They cannot even meet the needs of the medical market.
What is likely, however, is that foreign “GMP” product, including that grown outside and then submitted to a GMP process downstream (starting with drying and curing) may cross the German border only to then be channeled into the recreational market.
Given all the twists and turns so far, this would be far from a surprise.
However, this also means, in effect, that Morocco, along with other African countries on the brink of “medical” cannabis reform or implementation of such policy, is actually taking a bold, brave step into the unknown. And further doing so at a time when the medical cannabis certification process is taking an interesting path.
The winners, in the end, are likely to be consumers.
One thing is for sure: The quality of the formal global market, including what is likely to emanate from Morocco—no matter what its actual certification—is going to be a lot higher than it is now.