On March 11, the Moroccan cabinet approved a bill to legalize medical cannabis. The law will now be submitted to the Moroccan parliament for review. If the bill is ultimately successful, Morocco will become a true pioneer as only the second country in the Arab world will legalize any form of cannabis.
According to the provisions of the law, cannabis cultivation is only permitted in certain sectors in the Rif Mountains. This reflects the government’s concern about increasing farmers’ incomes in a region where “protests against economic inequality have taken place”.
What will happen in Parliament is everyone’s guess. The largest party in the ruling coalition, Justice and Development Party (PJD), is divided on this issue. As the approval of the cabinet shows, the PJD leadership supports the bill. However, there is disagreement among ordinary people, some of whom fear that it could lead to a split within the party. A former PJD general secretary, Abdelilah Benkirane, has “frozen” his party membership because of the bill, declaring cannabis “evil” and incompatible with Islam.
In addition to disagreements over cannabis, the sharpness also reflects PJD hardliners’ dissatisfaction with the government’s warm relations with Israel. In addition, Algeria has expressed concern about the potential impact of cross-border legalization in Morocco. The prospect of heightening existing tensions with its neighbor – including over Israel – could further cool attitudes towards the bill.
Ultimately, the notable fact is that the legalization of cannabis is at least partially supported within the PJD. It was not long ago that the party expressed its “categorical refusal” to consider legalization initiatives.
While the dispute within the PJD could make it difficult to approve the law, major opposition parties, the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) and the 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 voted against it. In the House of Councilors, the two parties control 48 out of 120 seats. Assuming the bill is supported by at least some PJD council members, its passage could be secured with a handful of votes from the myriad of other parties represented in the upper chamber.
Morocco’s landmark normalization agreement with Israel last December was rightly praised. Now the kingdom has another chance to make history.