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Moroccco takes up foreign marijuana hybrids

Moroccco takes up foreign marijuana hybrids


<p><strong>Morocco’s rugged Rif Mountains have long been renowned for their cannabis but traditional varieties are being smoked out by foreign hybrids offering higher yields and greater potency.</strong></p> <p>The local strain of marijuana, known as Beldiya, is coveted by afficionados but is gradually disappearing from the fields in the North African kingdom.</p> <p>Nowadays in Ketama, a region in the heart of the northern Rif, a strain called “Critical” is king.</p> <p>Hicham, a 27-year-old cannabis farmer, says that he grows Critical because “the new imported seeds give a much higher yield.”</p> <p>Major cannabis producers decide what to plant and “hybrid plants have become a market all on their own,” said Moroccan anthropologist Khalid Mouna, who has written a thesis on the economics of Ketama’s cannabis production.</p> <p>Critical, which Mouna said comes from the Netherlands, is the latest hybrid created in laboratories in Europe or North America to be introduced to Morocco.</p> <p>With names like “Pakistana”, “Amnesia” and “Gorilla”, hybrids are popular for their potency and affordability.</p> <p>Critical sells for 2,500 dirhams per kilo ($252, 230 euros), while Beldiya goes for up to 10,000 dirhams per kilo, local sources told <span class="caps">AFP</span>.</p> <h3>What does hashish have to do with it?</h3> <p>Morocco has long been a leading producer and exporter of hashish — refined cannabis resin — even though the production, sale and consumption of drugs is illegal in the country.</p> <p>A quarter of hashish seizures worldwide originated from Morocco between 2013 and 2017, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.</p> <p>While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable.</p> <p>In 2003, 134,000 hectares (330,000 acres) were under cannabis cultivation, falling to 47,500 hectares by 2011 under a large official reconversion programme, according to a 2015 study by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (<span class="caps">OFDT</span>).</p> <p>But modern hybrid strains produce five to 10 kilos (11 to 22 pounds) of hashish per quintal, a traditional unit of weight equivalent to 100 kilos, compared to a single kilo for kif, as local cannabis is known.</p> <p>“The substitution of hybrids for kif might explain why the production of Moroccan hashish has barely decreased,” the study said.</p> <h3>Its economic benefits</h3> <p>In Ketama, kif is part of the culture.</p> <p>Producing it and smoking it are tolerated by the authorities and its cultivation provides a livelihood for 90,000 to 140,000 people in an otherwise deprived region known for its poor soil.</p> <p>People in the area told <span class="caps">AFP</span> that it was mostly traffickers or intermediaries who bought the cannabis harvest for smuggling to Europe or other Moroccan towns.</p> <p>Hicham divides his time between his cannabis field and a cafe, where he and his friends smoke joints and watch satellite TV — a distraction from unemployment, he says.</p> <p>In this rural region, job prospects are rare, with one in four young people unemployed, according to official figures.</p> <p>Hicham and his friends all left school early to support their families, and many have left for Europe in search of work.</p> <p>Those who stay mostly work seasonally for large cannabis growers, earning about 100 dirhams per day for a month or two at a time.</p> <p>Most lack the money to get set up and work for themselves.</p> <h3>cost of production</h3> <p>The high yields of imported hybrid cannabis plants come at a cost however.</p> <p>The strains require heavy fertilization, which can damage the soil. And their insatiable thirst threatens the region’s water supplies, according to the <span class="caps">OFDT</span>.</p> <p>Critical grows in the dry summer, requiring heavy irrigation, while Beldiya is planted in winter, depending only on rainfall.</p> <p>Some locals complain that major producers enforce the planting of hybrids even in arid areas.</p> <p>“The traffickers impose it and the people don’t have any other choice,” says Mohamed Benyahya, a local community figure.</p> <p>To water their plantations, major producers install solar pumps on the roofs of their mansions.</p> <p>Not far from Hicham’s local cafe, a vast terraced cannabis plantation sprawls up a nearby mountain.</p> <p>Rows of carefully maintained plants are watered by drip irrigation via a network of pipes connected to a reservoir.</p> <p>Hybrids like Critical are notable also for high levels of <span class="caps">THC</span>, marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical.</p> <p>The adoption of hybrids explains the “rapid and significant increase in the average <span class="caps">THC</span> content” of seized Moroccan hashish, according to the <span class="caps">OFDT</span>.</p> <p>For smokers, the effect compared to Beldiya is pronounced. “One makes you think, the other makes you paranoid,” says Mohamed, a friend of Hicham.</p> <p>“European consumers no longer want hybrid cannabis on account of its high <span class="caps">THC</span> levels,” Mouna said.</p> <p>“Traditional Moroccan cannabis remains highly coveted, particularly by advocates of legalisation.”</p> <p>Cannabis decriminalisation remains controversial in the conservative country.</p> <p>Proposals to legalise cannabis have so far met fierce political opposition.</p> <p>For Mouna, legalisation could help regulate cannabis consumption while also preserving the more traditional and environmentally friendly Beldiya.</p> <p>And, while Hicham may have switched to growing Critical, he still only smokes Beldiya.</p> <p>“The modern varieties,” he says, “are mediocre.”</p>

Traditional Moroccan cannabis remains highly coveted

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