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The Rif Experience in Morocco
18 September 2006 21:59
Not only do the Moroccan authorities turn a blind eye towards tourists smoking hash, they turn a blind eye towards farmers growing Cannabis as well.Around 80% of all hash sold every year in Europe comes from the Rif mountains in northern Morocco. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in France, the Netherlands or Denmark, if you buy hashish in any one of those countries it probably comes from northern Morocco. The European Union isn’t very happy with that, but is not helping to solve the problem. In fact, the Union is part of the problem.

The Rif is one of the poorest regions of Morocco and home to the Amazigh tribes, who have their own language and culture dating back thousands of years. I travelled in the Rif several times before and this time I was meeting some friends in Chefchouan, a beautiful little town situated in between mountains in the western part of the Rif. After I arrived in Chefchouan, I checked in at the Rif Hotel. It’s not hard to find a hotel, because there are so many of them. They’re all over the place. Chefchouan is very beautiful, and that’s one of the reasons so many tourists from all over the world pay the little town a visit, but beauty is not the only reason tourists visit Chefchouan and the Rif mountains.

The Moroccan authorities are very keen on drawing more tourists to the country and tourists are treated very well in Morocco. That, of course, has a downside too. As I was enjoying a cup of traditional mint tea at my hotel, I saw some young tourists smoke hash on the hotel terrace in front of everybody. Apart from the fact hash can be bought everywhere in the Rif, it’s not respectful to smoke it wherever you want. Police officers and hotels, however are not saying much, because tourism is becoming more important for Morocco every year. They often turn a blind eye towards tourists smoking hash.

Not only do the authorities turn a blind eye towards tourists smoking hash, they turn a blind eye towards farmers growing Cannabis (the plant from which weed and hash are made) as well. As we travelled deeper into the Rif mountains near the town of Ketama, everywhere you looked you could see Cannabis. Cannabis was planted alongside the road, on the mountains and in the fields for as far as the eye can see. In the Ketama area we could see farmers smoking hash on the roofs of their houses. They waved at us in a friendly way as the Cannabis plants were drying in the sun behind them on the roofs. My friend Samir told me he once stopped at a café in Ketama to get a cup of coffee when he was on his way to the northern port city of Al-Hoceima. When he entered the café he noticed everybody was stoned, from the waiter to the police officers and all the other guests. Welcome to Ketama!

Amazigh farmers tried to grow other crops, but the European Union taxed the Moroccan tomatoes and oranges to protect its own farmers.The Moroccan government is not doing much to stop the growing of Cannabis because the Rif is an underdeveloped and very poor region of Morocco and the growing of Cannabis provides a lot of poor farmers with some income. For many it’s even their only income. They tried to grow other crops, but the European Union taxed the Moroccan tomatoes and oranges to protect its own farmers, and so many Amazigh farmers in the Rif started growing Cannabis. Putting a stop to growing Cannabis in the Rif would probably mean riots or even worse, because people have become dependent on Cannabis production. Too many people benefit from the Cannabis production to really deal with the production and the selling of it. If the European Union wants to put an end to all this they should offer the farmers of the Rif an alternative to growing Cannabis. They can’t expect the Moroccan authorities to deal with this problem all by themselves. The slow and relaxed pace in which officials in Brussels—the EU’s capital—are dealing with Cannabis production in the Rif, however, makes you wonder sometimes if some EU officials actually have some experience with products from the Rif—and I am not talking about tomatoes...
18 September 2006 22:42
hi sbs,
although it is right to say that the eu's got some responsibility in this problem, i don't think it's fair to lay all the blame solely on it. actually, morocco's largely responsible for it: how do you think that cannabis dealers always make it out of morocco with their products despite the supposedly stringent border checks? i mean, if they manage to take cannabis out of morocco, in increasingly larger amounts, it must be because the border patrol is more than lenient on them. and funnily enough, have you ever noticed that those same border cops and customs officers, who are paid peanuts, have villas in rif and northern parts of morocco that would make the likes of bill gates look like tramps? that's where the good old corruption comes into play..... the reason why it's such a huge problem is because it fits right with most people: farmers make a living out of it, and so do dealers, so do customs officers, so does the country.... we're just stuck in a vicious circle, you for turning a blind eye on it, there's a simple reason: money has no colour.
19 September 2006 02:21
I think it's not very hard for smugglers to get to Spain from North Morocco, a small engine powered boat can do the job, very far away from the official borders... Same thing is happening in all the places where you have countries with a big economic divide that are separated by the sea (cf. south america / florida).
20 September 2006 13:45
I have been living in the Rif for a while and for me it is always very embarassing to see all these european tourists come to our town Chefchaouen to spend weeks and weeks stoned all day long. The use they give to hash is a personal thing but i think they are very wrong about the benefits of this crop to the region. I have had the opportunity to talk to many of these tourists and they really think they are doing a good thing, helping the poor people from the Rif to grow this crop that in reallity has substituted many other traditional crops and has socially damaged the communities in our region. I mean, women are still working very hard, and men are getting used to doing almost nothing because kif is a very easy thing to grow. So that means that the kif has changed the region's:
- society
- economy
- environment
- culture
People believe Kif is a very natural thing but the truth is that 70% of the pesticides used in Morocco are being used in the Rif. This destroys the soil and helps deforestation of many areas where the usual land has been worn out. Young people have no future there but to grow kif as most traditional crops give them less than nothing to survive if they sell it on the national market...
As for providing alternatives to kif, it is really very difficult. There are experiences with eco-tourism, cooperatives and alternative crops, but the truth is that nothing gives more money and less work than kif. The only thing for me would be to legalise hash (which would avoid mafias and would push prices down) or to really fight against corruption within the police who are in charge of controlling the area...
I also think that tourists should be better informed about what it really means for a village to be dependant on kif. It is not happy-flowers and hippy life like they think.
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