Hashish in Morocco
Clandestine smoke, hashish in Morocco
Both traditional and controversial, the cultivation of cannabis in the Rif region concerns the entire agricultural, informal and family economy of this region.
To date, no government has succeeded in eradicating the crop and the solutions proposed to producers who have long been accustomed to the exceptions have not satisfied anyone.
The Rif, a region in northern Morocco, is the world’s largest producer of Cannabis Indica.
From cannabis to hashish
The cannabis resin, the hashish, is contained in trichomes, the glands secretory to the leaves and flowers of female plants, male plants do not produce it.
In Morocco, the technique used is the most widely used in Arab countries. It consists of drying the extracted plants in the sun before sieving to separate the trichomes from the plant material.
The choice of the sieve remains paramount, the finer the mesh, the more concentrated the trichomes will be to achieve a superior quality. This choice of sieve will therefore determine both the quality of the hashish and its destination. This method is also admirably described by Henry de Monfreid in his book “The Hash Cruise”.
For the anecdote, the famous hashish called’ Double Zero’ comes from the finest mesh and two sieves. This process makes it very rare in Morocco, even at production sites, so it is quite rare in Europe.
Hashish, pressed or not
The resulting resin is then stored to enhance both flavour and effect.
In Morocco, the pressing is done hydraulically, providing more or less malleable pads, varying from a yellowish to brown color through different shades of green.
One can however find hashish just compressed once to compact it and make it more manageable, but this has the effect of minimizing oxidation of cannabinoids.
In Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, pressing is traditionally done by hand.
The Rif hash is mainly packaged in smaller pieces or soaps, or “olives”. Its colour and consistency vary, it is bitter and acreage, strong in taste; it is distinguished by several qualities, the best known of which are Pollen, Double Zero, Primero or Ketama.
Kif, although prepared differently, is actually grass mixed with black tobacco grown in the Rif Mountains.
It can be packaged in two ways: ready-to-use or as a bunch of dried branches with more or less seeds and small leaves.
Usually supplied in newspaper or a pocket, the bouquet is sold with some dried black tobacco leaves. At the time of the Moroccan Board of Kif and Tobacco, the mixture was two thirds of a finely cut plant for one third of black tobacco.
Manual, the preparation of the kif is a tedious work for those who are not used to it. A first step is to remove the ends of branches, possibly too large leaves and then eliminate the seeds while ridding them of the thin envelope that covers them.
Part of this work can be carried out using a sieve, so it is sufficient to crush the plant coarsely on top of it in order to extract the biggest parts.
Once these tiny envelopes and leaves have been collected, they should be chopped as finely as possible before being combined with tobacco that has undergone the same mincing.
It should be noted that this black tobacco, cultivated without state control and which does not collect taxes for it, is as prohibited as cannabis…
The kif is then smoked with the help of a sebsi, a small terracotta stove (shkofa) fixed on a long and thin wooden handle that allows the smoke to cool down before inhaling it. For Moroccans, this is the traditional way of smoking kif.
Much cheaper than hashish, and more convivial, smoking sebsi is a societal practice still widespread and appreciated in Morocco…
History and politics around hashish in Morocco
In 1996, a German biologist, Stefan Haag, pointed out that at the end of the 19th century, nearly 90 per cent of France’s pharmaceutical needs came from the Rif and added that Morocco was one of the first regions in the world where cannabis was cultivated for psychotropic purposes.
Even if part of the harvests were intended for other Moroccan regions, the kif produced in the Rif was mainly produced for self-consumption.
However, in Morocco, this psychotropic use of the kif will remain for a long time the prerogative of the followers of certain Sufi brotherhoods, gnaouies or hmadchas who used it exclusively during their mystical rituals.
Beyond this strictly religious use, the consumption of the kif, considered as social and recreational, will gain from the beginning of the twentieth century a large fringe of the Moroccan population, especially male, and this, all social classes combined.
This societal and friendly practice of sebsi will last until the end of the 80s. The transformation of kif into hashish from the 1960s onwards will change the perception of cannabis in the Moroccan population, which will feel it more like a drug.
Cannabis in Morocco
Historians agree that cannabis is believed to have entered Morocco with the Arab conquerors who brought seeds from the Middle East and Asia. Initially confined to limited areas in the Haouz and Gharb regions, the cultivation was initially intended for medicinal preparations and tissue production.
It was from the 15th century onwards that the kif spread in the remote massifs of the central Rif and particularly in the Ketama region.
At the end of the 19th century, a French missionary and anthropologist born in Tlemcen, Auguste Moulieras, reported his production by the Sanhadja tribe of Beni Khaled in the vicinity of Oujda, east of the Rif and the country.
It is also in this second half of the century that Sultan Moulay Hassan (1873-1894) authorized the cultivation of this species in five douars (villages) of the Kétamas, Beni Saddates and Beni Khaled tribes in the sanhadja country.
Since these Sanhadjas tribes were traditionally in dissent against the central Makhzen, this decision, which had nothing to do with philanthropy, was taken to calm and pacify these turbulent tribes of the’ blad ciba’.
This term blad ciba is frequently used to refer to an outlaw territory that was not really controlled by this central power and was particularly relevant to the eastern and south-eastern regions of the kingdom as well as part of the Central and Eastern High Atlas.
Under French and Spanish protectorates
In 1912, Morocco under the double French and Spanish protectorate was divided in two. In the northern part of the Rif it controlled, Spain did not call into question this culture, which had become traditional for some Rif tribes.
In the independent Republic of the Rif (1921-1926) created by the rifan resistance led by Abdelkrim al-Khattabi, the Berber warlord considered that the consumption of the kif was in contradiction with the Koranic precepts and significantly reduced its production.
However, the Spaniards, after their victory and in a goal of appeasement, allowed again his culture around Ketama.
On the French side, General Lyautey, in the hope of isolating the revolutionary and nationalist experiment initiated by Al-Khattabi, authorized in 1926 the cultivation of cannabis in the north of the city of Fez.
But through this experience, which lasted only three years, Lyautey also had as an objective, like other politicians before him, to calm and content the tribes neighboring the rebellious regions that had just submitted to French domination.
The Moroccan Kif and Tobacco Board
It is following the conference of Algeciras in 1906 that the monopoly of purchases and sales of tobacco and kif was granted to this multinational with French capital.
The Régie had its headquarters in Tangier and a factory in Casablanca. Tobacco and cannabis were treated at both sites. The kif, which was initially a mixture of these two plants, was then only intended for the domestic market.
Copied on the model of the Indo-Chinese Opium Board, La Régie had full control over the production and distribution of kif, except for that produced in the Rif areas under Spanish administration.
The contracts binding smallholder producers guaranteed prices and quantities, qualities and processing methods as well as land allocated for cannabis and tobacco cultivation.
Available over the counter at the Régie’s points of sale and those of authorized dealers, the kif, which contained two-thirds of dried and finely chopped cannabis for one-third of brown tobacco, was packaged in cardboard packages sealed with a Régie’s tax stamp…
In accordance with its international commitments, France, which had banned production and trade in the metropolitan territory, extended it to Morocco.
Thus, for the first time in Morocco, the dahir of 22 December 1932 strictly prohibited the cultivation of cannabis on Moroccan territory under the control of the French protectorate… except for that cultivated under the supervision of the Régie. This concerned the Haouz plain (Marrakech region) and the Gharb plain (Kenitra region).
A dahir of April 1954 extended this ban on cultivation and consumption to all of Morocco under French administration.
After independence in 1956, very badly received by thousands of small farmers accustomed to Spanish tolerance, prohibition was applied throughout Morocco’s national territory… With the exception, once again, of a really very small area around the village of Azilal in the Al Hoceima region.
At the end of the fifties, the sharp rise in unemployment in the Rif and price hikes triggered a social movement, the “uprising of the mountains”, harshly suppressed by the army.
A social revolt that led the young Moroccan government to become more tolerant of the Kif culture and the development of this informal economy, which already supports several hundred rifan families.
Now in this case the cultivated areas, a status quo accompanied the next ten years during which the cultivation and trade of the kif tried to remain discreet.
The end of a tradition
A growing European demand, combined with the most oppressive economic insecurity for the Rifans, led to an increase in the area cultivated from the 1970s onwards, for the first time exceeding 10,000 hectares.
To satisfy this external demand, the transformation of grass into hashish and oil became more important.
It is a hippie community composed of French, Dutch, Germans and Americans, established in Ketama, that will initiate local producers to the extraction methods necessary for this transformation.
The Moroccan hashish and its oil came into being and within a few months gradually replaced the use of traditional kif. The sebsi fell into disuse and a societal change took place, for while the sebsi smoker enjoyed a kind respectability, the joint smoker was far from enjoying this tolerance.
The consumption of hashish will rapidly increase among Moroccan urban youth, while the use of kif will continue in rural and mountainous areas, which may explain the greater tolerance of the authorities towards it.
Years of crisis
The economic crisis that struck in the seventies and eighties further and harshly weakened a rifan peasantry with little land and means, without access to credit or state aid.
Unable to cope with an increasingly modernised and extensive agriculture and the import of foodstuffs, cannabis cultivation seemed to be a good opportunity for many of them.
Little by little networks were set up and Morocco soon replaced other countries such as Lebanon and Afghanistan, torn apart by wars, as the inevitable supplier of hashish in Europe.
From the initial nucleus of the Sanhadja country, Ketama and its region, the cultures have spread to other regions of Rifania, such as Ghomaras or the Jebalas, as well as to the east in the Al Hoceima region.
This extensive monoculture of cannabis, which was still growing after 2000, puts the entire Rif region and its surroundings in a difficult situation. Thus, the town of Chefchaouen and its surroundings have lost their agricultural and food self-sufficiency.
The same is true in the regions of Ghomaras and Akhmas, where cannabis is now predominantly grown on land traditionally used for animal husbandry and various self-sufficiency crops.
Morocco, the world’s leading producer of hashish
The area under cannabis cultivation in Morocco, which was around 100 hectares at the beginning of the 1960s, reached 50,000 hectares 20 years later and peaked at 100,000 hectares in the last decade of the twentieth century.
The harvest is estimated at about 30,000 tonnes per year in the 2000s, or about 70% of world production.
Several international studies have shown that Morocco is the world’s largest producer and supplier of cannabis.
Under pressure from its European partners, Morocco began a tough cannabis eradication policy in the early 2000s with the result that the rifaine population was held to account without any conclusive results.
As the cultivation spread to other regions close to the Rif such as Larache and Ksar el-Kebir, the introduction of alternative crops was also a failure.
However, at a time when we are talking more and more about the legalization of the kif, and not of hashish, especially during the electoral period, particularly with the PAM (Parti Authenticité et Modernité) which is well established in northern Morocco, the problem of the legality of its culture remains as burning and controversial as ever.
Legislation, vigilance and quality
Although for domestic political reasons cannabis cultivation has always been tolerated and encouraged, its sale and use has been duly prohibited and severely suppressed since the accession to the throne of Mohammed VI, despite a relative benevolence towards old sebsi smokers.
Two political parties, WFP and Istliqlal, are calling for the legalization of cannabis for therapeutic and industrial purposes, as well as for an amnesty for some 48,000 semi-clandestine farmers in Rifans and for a national debate on the subject.
In fact, a 1917 dahir still tolerates this production in the Amazigh region of Ketama-Issaguen and the cultivated areas are estimated to be less than 50,000 hectares.
Blocks sometimes cut to other products
Unlike kif or marijuana, hashish is a processed product whose quality or quantity can be modified with adjuvants and… it is in Moroccan hashish that most of it is found.
Psychotropic drugs to improve its effects, waxing, waxing, waxing, paraffin, oil draining, henna… techniques are not lacking to multiply blends. The famous soap bars of the 1990s, often composed of leaves of sprayed grass and bound with paraffin, in which drugs were added, is a good illustration of this.
The effects are often overwhelming, cause headaches or fatigue. Due to a lack of control due to its ban, Moroccan hashish sold in France is far from being of the highest quality. 70% of the hashes tested in some studies would contain substances harmful to the body.
In Morocco, although it is common in the city, it remains difficult to obtain cannabis in less urbanized areas. Even though everything can happen, caution remains necessary in all respects for these purchases, which are far from trivial.