Moroccan Mountain high

A JOURNEY INTO MOROCCO’S HIGH MOUNTAIN CANNABIS CULTURE

Morocco is not only a land of delicious food and mouthwatering coffee, it is also the world’s largest producer of cannabis, with an estimated 134,000 hectares under cultivation.

Words and photos by CHRIS FOWLIE

THE highlands around the Rif Mountains, which face the Mediterranean Sea in the north of the country, account for more than forty per cent of global hashish production. Largely driven by the close proximity to the millions of cannabis consumers in Europe, hash is now Morocco’s biggest source of foreign currency. At least 800,000 people are directly employed in the industry, contributing at least 2 billion euros to the local economy.

Cannabis was first recorded in Ketema – now ground zero for dodgy hash smugglers and the occasional tourist disappearance – in the 15th Century. Today, most is smuggled to Spain and on to Europe by high speed motor boat departing from the northern ports of Martel, Oued Laous, Boh Ahmed, Nador, Tetoaun and Tanger. A lot also goes inside trucks and cars on ferries. In fact the smugglers have become so proficient and have opened up enough routes with their bribes and corruption they have caught they eye of the Columbian cartels. Coke is now being traffiked into Europe via established hash smuggling channels – another example of prohibition encouraging the spread of hard drugs.

THE LAW IN MOROCCO

Morocco is a hash and caffeine culture. Those two drugs are commonplace, whereas alcohol is against the law. Today cannabis is also officially prohibited and strictly punished but this has only been the case since Morocco gained independence from Spain in 1956, and shortly after the King granted the Rif Mountain areas permission to cultivate cannabis. This exemption has never been rescinded, and for the locals at least, hash can be consumed fairly openly.

Tourists are another story, being an easy source of bribes for the underpaid cops. I was told the police have no right to search people, but the general advice was to keep a low profile and restrict any smoking to the hotel.

MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE FARM

Having said that, we were not here to sit around the hotel. Chefchaoun is known as the gateway to the Rif Mountains and the start of cannabis country. It’s also bloody cold and rains a lot. After noticing a familiar smell and click of the lighter, I gingerly approached the hotel boy and asked very politely and nonchalantly whether he might possibly know anywhere… oh yes of course, he smiled, and was back in a flash with some very nice unpressed hash powder. Upon further testing it was determined to be of top quality so a question was put about perhaps paying a visit to the grower. Of course, he said, we do the package trip!

For the very reasonable fee of about NZ$150 we were picked up early the next morning by Grande Taxi and driven high up into the mountains near Bab Taza, where we were entertained with stories, fed delicious home cooked Moroccan food, shown how they make hash with a very informative and instructional workshop, taken on a tour around the fields, given some to try, and after a long and very enjoyable day were taken back home again for a well earned rest.

Our host Mustapha is a taxi driver during the off season but during the farming months his entire family is kept busy tending cannabis terraces that stretch high into the surrounding hillsides. Everyone around here does it, he says, and the local cops are paid enough to look away.

At several points along the winding roads to and from his isolated farm house we were beckoned and whistled at by young men on the road side, eager to “do business”.

CANNABIS CULTURE IN MOROCCO

Morocco is a Muslim country, where alcohol is forbidden but cannabis is widely tolerated. There are many Sufis in Morocco and cannabis use among them is commonplace.

Most Moroccans use cannabis kif or hashish pollen in a sebsi pipe. The hash pollen is collected from semi-wild, seeded cannabis flowers, grown on a massive scale for an export market that now helps sustain the Moroccan economy.

Nakhla or hookah pipes are common, even three headed beasts like that shown below, but they are only used for tobacco.

Mustapha explained the local cannabis culture to me. Moroccans smoke their ganja with tobacco. They put what they call Kif in a Sebsi, a long pipe made from several sections of wood with a small clay bowl, and they put hash into cigarettes.

Hash comes as loose unpressed powder, while Kif (or “grass”) is what is left over from hash production. It has been beaten and crushed and is very low quality, however can still be used as a mixer with the hash powder.

It is not unusual to see Moroccan men in traditional jeleba outfits in cafes smoking their sebsi pipes, often within view of nearby policemen. In the medinas of Chefchaoun and Fez the touts were relentless. “Pssst… get high before you die?” (must have assumed I was straight) “I have something to blow your mind… and no one will know!” (was he going to secretly kill me?)

All I wanted was to satiate my intense munchies, and what’s great about Morocco is they eat these mouth-watering giant crumpets as big as dinner plates, and you can always get a delicious coffee to go with your top quality hashish.

ARRIVING IN MOROCCO, AND GETTING AROUND

  • Getting around by bus or train is easy. Grande Taxis (old beat up Mercedes) can be hired for trips between towns while petite taxies are used within towns. Getting lost in the Medinas is part of the adventure.
  • Touts will be waiting anywhere there are tourists. They are not dangerous, just annoying and relentless. Don’t talk to them. Scoring from them would be risky and more expensive.
  • Ask a taxi driver, but don’t be timid – tell them exactly what you want and don’t take any bullshit. Always remember when getting in a taxi to negotiate the fare before it sets off!
  • The safest way for a traveler to make a good connection is to ask discreetly at the hotel. Often the belhop will be pleased to make some extra money. Plus, tourists are recorded with the police as being their guest so the hotel has an interest in tourists remaining safe and happy. If caught, offer to “pay the fine now”.
  • When shopping, whether for hash or slippers, haggling is a national sport. Get into it, but be warned: attempts to cheat are also commonplace (eg fake souvineers, fake hash).

HANDY WORDS TO KNOW IN MOROCCO

  • Any French or Spanish!
  • Hello/Goodbye = Salam/Besalam
  • Thanks/No thanks = shoukran/la shoukran
  • Baraka! = Stop!
  • Pollen = dry sift hash powder
  • Hadala = the best hash (should cost about NZ$5-7/gram)
  • Grass = crap but makes a better mix than tobacco
  • Sebsi = traditional Moroccan smoking pipe.

[Originally published in NORML News Winter/Spring 2010]

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