Cannabis in Morocco: Once Again the Kingdom Makes History

On March 11, Morocco’s cabinet approved a bill to legalize medical cannabis. The bill will now pass to Morocco’s parliament for consideration. If the bill ultimately succeeds, Morocco will become a true pioneer, as only the second country in the Arab world to legalize any form of cannabis.

Under the terms of the bill, cannabis cultivation will be permitted only in certain sectors in the Rif mountains. This reflects the government’s concerns with boosting farmers’ incomes in a region that has “seen protests over economic inequality.”

What will happen in parliament is anyone’s guess. The largest party in the governing coalition, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), is split on the issue. As demonstrated by cabinet’s approval, the PJD leadership is supportive of the bill. However, there is dissent amongst the rank-and-file, which some fear could lead to division within the party. A former PJD secretary general, Abdelilah Benkirane, has “frozen” his party membership over the bill, declaring cannabis to be “evil” and inconsistent with Islam.

In addition to disagreements over cannabis, the acrimony also reflects dissatisfaction from PJD hardliners over the government’s warm relationship with Israel. Moreover, Algeria has expressed concern about the potential impact of legalization across the border in Morocco. The prospect of heightening existing tensions with its neighbor—including over Israel—may further cool attitudes toward the bill.

Ultimately, the fact that there is at least some support for cannabis legalization within the PJD is remarkable. It was not that long ago that the party voiced its “categorical refusal” to consider legalization initiatives.

While the strife within the PJD could complicate the bill’s approval, the main opposition parties, the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) and Independence Party (Istiqlal), have long supported the legalization of medical cannabis. Between them, the PAM and Istiqlal hold 148 of the 395 seats in the House of Representatives. This means that the bill could clear the lower chamber even if more than half of the PJD delegation votes against it. In the House of Councillors, the two parties control 48 out of 120 seats. Assuming the bill has the support of at least some PJD councillors, its passage could be secured with handful of votes from the myriad other parties represented in the upper chamber.

Morocco’s landmark normalization agreement with Israel last December rightly earned praise. Now the kingdom has another chance to make history.