Although many of the Riffian tribes in the mountains had always smoked kif, it was the Spanish who really encouraged its cultivation – probably as an effort to keep the peace. This situation was apparently accepted when Mohammed V came to power, though the reasons for his acceptance of the status quo aren‘t obvious. There is a story, probably apocryphal, that when he visited Ketama in 1957, he accepted a bouquet of cannabis as a symbolic gift.

In the early 1970s the Rif became the centre of a significant drug industry, exporting to Europe and America. This sudden growth was accounted for by the introduction, by an American dealer, of techniques for producing hash resin. Overnight, the Riffians had access to a compact and easily exportable product, as well as a burgeoning world market for dope. Inevitably, big business was quick to follow and to this day Morocco is reckoned to be the world’s leading producer of cannabis, supplying the vast majority of Europe’s demand, and with well over a million people said to depend on the crop for their existence, providing the economic base for much of the country‘s north. The government, with help from EU and US grants, has tried to reduce cultivation – a project near Rafsaï has replaced cannabis with 600,000 olive trees, for example – and the authorities claim that cultivation has decreased by almost thirty percent over the past decade. However, these figures are estimations gleaned from satellite photographs and are reckoned by European experts to be highly dubious. While the government’s stated aim to eradicate cannabis cultivation by 2008 clearly failed, there has recently been a steady increase in the number of police-supervised clearing of crops, many of them well publicized to no doubt please Morocco’s European neighbours. The bare fact remains, however, that farmers earn immeasurably more from cannabis than they would from growing legal crops.

Some (non-government) experts are saying that the eradication cause is a lost one, and believe it’s better to encourage farmers to rotate cannabis with other crops to avoid ruining their land with overuse of chemical fertilizers – whatever European hippies might like to think, cannabis grown in the Rif is anything but “organic” – rather than waste resources on trying to stop the industry altogether.

It’s worth noting here that Moroccan law forbids the sale, purchase and possession of cannabis. These laws are enforced on occasion with some vigour, so don’t be seduced by the locals: police roadblocks are frequent, informers common. Cannabis in the Rif is obviously big business and potentially dangerous for casual visitors to get mixed up in.

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