Rabat – In a fiery speech on Wednesday, Morocco’s former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane repeated five key myths about cannabis that have no basis in reality. Now that the government has confirmed it will approve the legal production of cannabis, Morocco World News dispels the five fundamental misunderstandings opponents of the cash crop continue to parrot.
Benkirane’s speech, although delivered with the zeal of the religious, continued to present unfortunate myths that have delayed and muddied Morocco’s debate on cannabis. Repeating colonial narratives about the substance, Morocco’s former PM revealed the outdated arguments that are still in use against one of Morocco’s most promising economic developments.
Myth 1: Legalizing cannabis does not help poor farmers
Abdelilah Benkirane started his speech calling those urging cannabis legalization “thugs.” He posed that anti-prohibition arguments were “lies” aimed at promoting “evil.” Yet, Benkirane’s remarks appear to ignore one important factor.
The debate over legalizing cannabis is not one over whether to introduce cannabis to Morocco; it is already here in abundance.
While Benkirane tried to rubbish claims that legalization would improve farmers’ enjoyment of human rights, the facts prove this over and over. Currently over 30,000 farmers remain de-facto imprisoned in their villages because they fear prosecution if they travel to Morocco’s cities.
This unfortunate state means farmers are cut off from receiving proper health care, accessing state support, and petitioning their government. There is no doubt that the current legal state of cannabis imprisons thousands and robs them of their key human rights.
Farmers remain at the mercy of organized crime in order to support their families, send their children to school, and collect funds to eventually retire. Legalizing cannabis means farmers will finally see recognition for their labor. It will remove them from the informal economy and remove the continuous threat of arrest and prosecution for their choice of crop to grow.
Myth 2: Embracing cannabis is bad for Morocco’s reputation
Legalizing cannabis, according to Benkirane, would mean “disasters will take place all over Morocco, its reputation will be at stake.” Again, Benkirane appears to be working from the assumption that there is no cannabis currently, or that the world is not aware that Morocco is its second biggest producer worldwide.
Morocco’s international image is already connected to its famous cannabis products. One part of that is indeed negative—massive drug seizures, smuggling, and drug dealing do besmirch the country’s name. Yet these negatives all revolve around the illegality of cannabis.
Were cannabis legal there would be no seizures, no drug dealers or smugglers. Instead there would be a legal industry such as those in Canada or the US, key Moroccan trading partners.
On the other hand, Morocco’s reputation regarding cannabis is also positive with certain demographics. Thousands of backpackers and young tourists tour the Rif’s green fields and visit cities such as Chefchaouen exactly because of its reputation as a laid-back place to consume Morocco’s famous export.
Legalizing the industry would bring a new category of cannabis-oriented tourists as well, those high-end travelers looking for wellness and beauty clinics where cannabis can be a key component in products.
Another key point is that Morocco would not be a pioneer for legalizing cannabis. Dozens of countries have in some form legalized the substance, with no negative impact on their international relations or reputation. Cannabis and Morocco are already linked, the question is who benefits, Moroccans in general, or those at the top of organized crime organizations.
Myth 3: More cannabis = more crime
In his speech, Morocco’s former PM repeated the much-disproved talking point that more cannabis means more crime. Benikrane spoke of unspecified “disasters” and a rise in the homicide rate if Morocco were to legalize cannabis.
Again, dozens of other countries who have legalized it in some form have disproven this claim. Legalizing cannabis in fact ensures an enormous drop in crime. This is because an estimated $8 billion market would suddenly no longer be illegal.
Legalizing cannabis would pull tens of thousands of farmers and distributors out of illegality, would allow the government to tax and control labor practices, and would free the police from focusing time and effort arresting cannabis-related non-violent criminals.
Stopping crime was a key factor for legalization efforts in Europe. Both the Netherlands and Portugal managed to realize a significant drop in crime through their efforts to take cannabis out of the shadows.
Ending the prohibition would actually free time and resources for police to prosecute violent crimes, meaning that legalization is likely to lead to a drop in crime.
Myth 4: Cannabis is evil and incompatible with Islam
Benikrane repeatedly described cannabis as “evil” and against Islam. Again, the facts do not support the statement. Thousands of patients around the world benefit from the therapeutic and medical qualities of cannabis, helping them relieve symptoms of horrible afflictions such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, or chronic pain.
Benikrane stated that Morocco’s royal house and its predecessors “have always fought against drugs, cannabis and even smoking.” Ironically, Benikrane appears to not count Morocco’s pre-colonial history.
Cannabis was not historically illegal in Morocco. Instead, it was European colonizers that banned the substance.
The prohibition on cannabis is a remnant of Western imperialism and colonialism. The basis for banning cannabis in the first place stemmed from deep-seeded racism and white supremacy.
Regarding Islam’s prohibition on cannabis, Benikrane also presents an age-old debate into black-and-white facts.
For centuries Muslims have seen cannabis as one of many plants that has medical qualities. While the intoxicating effect of non-medicinal use might be a taboo comparable to alcohol, cannabis is undoubtedly less intoxicating and addictive than alcohol.
Most importantly, cannabis products do not have to be intoxicating to help heal patients. CBD extracts and other methods of removing the intoxicating effects from the substance mean that patients have a natural and organic alternative to prescription pharmaceutical medicines that often have such an effect.
The debate around cannabis’ status in Islam appears to somewhat resemble the debate around coffee in centuries past. Coffee, an addictive stimulant, was considered both haram and immoral using the same arguments that Benikrane makes about cannabis—that it is bad for health and society. Yet, the debate continues and the status of coffee changed.
Myth 5: Medical cannabis is just an excuse
Benikrane’s skepticism regarding medical cannabis conflicts with both modern and ancient views on the plant’s medical qualities. Cannabis enjoyed recognition for its medicinal effects long before European powers created the false narrative around cannabis that Berkane continues to promote.
The oldest remaining text on the medicinal quality of cannabis stems from the Islamic scientific golden age. Renowned Islamic scientist Ibn Sina, known in the west as Avicenna, included cannabis in his “Canon of Medicine.” Ibn Sina’s seminal medical book became the preeminent scientific text on the topic for many centuries after its first publication.
A 2001 study for the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics established that “Arab scientists were several centuries ahead of our current knowledge of the curative power of hemp.”
Reclaiming cannabis as a medical resource that Islamic science has used and promoted for centuries helps decolonialize Morocco’s western-influenced prohibition.
Morocco has the opportunity to remove taboos that were first imagined in Washington, London, and Paris, re-establish a centuries-old connection, and abolish shame regarding Morocco’s famous cannabis products.
Additionally, if the government wants to discourage the use of cannabis, especially among the youth, legalization would actually allow for this to become a realistic objective.
As long as cannabis is illegal there is no minimum age for consumption. As difficult as it is for an underage person to buy a bottle of wine, buying a few grams of hashish has no effective barriers for Morocco’s youth.
Dispelling misinformation about cannabis is important. Colonial powers have invented and promoted narratives around the substance, with racism and oppression as these narratives’ main ingredients. Morocco has the unique advantage of being able to learn from other countries’ experiences with legalization and develop a truly Moroccan way of addressing the issue.