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Foreign hybrids stubbing out Morocco’s renowned cannabis

Foreign hybrids stubbing out Morocco’s renowned cannabis

  • While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable

KETAMA, Morocco: 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.

The local strain of marijuana, known as Beldiya, is coveted by aficionados but is gradually disappearing from the fields in the North African kingdom.

Nowadays in Ketama, a region in the heart of the northern Rif, a strain called “Critical” is king.

Hicham, a 27-year-old cannabis farmer, says that he grows Critical because “the new imported seeds give a much higher yield.”

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.

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.

With names like “Pakistana,” “Amnesia” and “Gorilla,” hybrids are popular for their potency and affordability.

Critical sells for 2,500 dirhams per kilo ($252), while Beldiya goes for up to 10,000 dirhams per kilo, local sources told AFP.

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.

A quarter of hashish seizures worldwide originated from Morocco between 2013 and 2017, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable.

In 2003, 134,000 hectares were under cannabis cultivation, falling to 47,500 hectares by 2011 under a large official reconversion program, according to a 2015 study by the French Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT).

But modern hybrid strains produce five to 10 kilos 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.

“The substitution of hybrids for kif might explain why the production of Moroccan hashish has barely decreased,” the study said.

In Ketama, kif is part of the culture.

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.

People in the area told AFP that it was mostly traffickers or intermediaries who bought the cannabis harvest for smuggling to Europe or other Moroccan towns.

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.

In this rural region, job prospects are rare, with one in four young people unemployed, according to official figures.

Hicham and his friends all left school early to support their families, and many have left for Europe in search of work.

Those who stay mostly work seasonally for large cannabis growers, earning about 100 dirhams per day for a month or two at a time.

Most lack the money to get set up and work for themselves.

The high yields of imported hybrid cannabis plants come at a cost however.

The strains require heavy fertilization, which can damage the soil. And their insatiable thirst threatens the region’s water supplies, according to the OFDT.

Critical grows in the dry summer, requiring heavy irrigation, while Beldiya is planted in winter, depending only on rainfall.

Some locals complain that major producers enforce the planting of hybrids even in arid areas.

“The traffickers impose it and the people don’t have any other choice,” says Mohamed Benyahya, a local community figure.

To water their plantations, major producers install solar pumps on the roofs of their mansions.

Not far from Hicham’s local cafe, a vast terraced cannabis plantation sprawls up a nearby mountain.

Rows of carefully maintained plants are watered by drip irrigation via a network of pipes connected to a reservoir.

Hybrids like Critical are notable also for high levels of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical.

The adoption of hybrids explains the “rapid and significant increase in the average THC content” of seized Moroccan hashish, according to the OFDT.

For smokers, the effect compared to Beldiya is pronounced. “One makes you think, the other makes you paranoid,” says Mohamed, a friend of Hicham.

“European consumers no longer want hybrid cannabis on account of its high THC levels,” Mouna said.

“Traditional Moroccan cannabis remains highly coveted, particularly by advocates of legalization.”

Cannabis decriminalization remains controversial in the conservative country.

Proposals to legalize cannabis have so far met fierce political opposition.

For Mouna, legalization could help regulate cannabis consumption while also preserving the more traditional and environmentally friendly Beldiya.

And, while Hicham may have switched to growing Critical, he still only smokes Beldiya. “The modern varieties,” he says, “are mediocre.”

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Analysts debate impact of Israel-UAE-Bahrain accords at Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate

Analysts debate impact of Israel-UAE-Bahrain accords at Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate

  • COVID-19, US elections and UAE-Israel treaty among the topics analyzed at virtual event hosted by Emirates Policy Center
  • Participants in Tuesday’s session saw Abraham Accords as paving the way for a resolution of Israeli-Palestine conflict

DUBAI: The recent normalization of relations between Israel and two Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the UAE and Bahrain, could well prepare the ground for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This was among the key observations of experts who took part in a panel discussion as part of the three-day Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate.

Sprinkled with references to strategic “recalculations” and “game changers,” Tuesday’s session, titled “The Gulf: Recalculations,” was one of the highlights of the seventh Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, organized by the UAE’s Emirates Policy Center.

“The geopolitical map of power distribution in the Middle East has been changing,” said Abdulla bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, chairman of the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Derasat).

“If we look at the past two decades, we find that some countries previously played a central role but, for reasons of civil war, insecurity or economic stagnation, no longer do so. If we look at the Gulf in particular, we find that having quickly become a front runner, it is leading the region in terms of peace, economic development and political and regional affairs.”

Al-Khalifa said that GGC states, compared with the rest of the region, have successfully preserved their domestic security, continued to focus on positive economic development, provided necessary and advanced services to its people and residents and attracted great minds from all around the world.

“There are very positive indicators that show that the Gulf is in a better-off position,” he said. “Forecasts indicate that were the Gulf to continue on such a positive economic development trajectory to 2030, it would be the sixth biggest economic bloc in the world, and this says a lot.”

To put the GCC’s achievements in perspective, Al-Khalifa cited a UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimate that placed the number of refugees leaving their hometowns — mainly from the Middle East toward Europe —at 225,000 in 2014. A year later, that number quadrupled to just above one million, before starting to gradually decrease.

“What happened during 2015 alone was the continuous channeling of funds toward areas of tension and the financing of terrorist and extremist organizations in parts of the Middle East,” he said. “This caused more instability, which undermined the security of many different countries in the region and which has led to more refugees fleeing toward Europe.”

Al-Khalifa took note of the (maximum) “economic pressure” brought to bear on Iran by the Trump administration and the labeling of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization last year but cautioned that no decisive action has been taken. “Many are of the notion that the current Iranian regime is betting on a new US administration,” he said. “And we are still to see the final results of the US elections, which are yet to be reflected in developments in the Middle East.”

For his part, Albadr Alshateri, former politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi, described the advent of the Abraham Accords — signed by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain — as one of necessity, owing to the geopolitical competition that is so “pervasive” in the region. He said the treaty’s three signatories all regard Iran as a common threat, adding that they have come together because of the gradual “erosion” of the Arab state system, which has been on the decline, particularly since 1990 and the invasion of Kuwait.

FAST FACTS
Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate

* The 7th ADSD was held on Nov. 9-11

* Main topics were pandemic, US elections and UAE-Israel treaty

* Discussions were conducted via Zoom and live-streamed on social media

“The Arab state system was a structure that shaped the foreign policies of different Arab states and provided leadership in the face of external threats and challenges,” he said. “Since that decline or erosion, core Arab states are now basically in chaos or are failed states, like Syria and perhaps Iraq. Egypt is also maybe too busy with itself to play the big role it used to in the regional system.”

From a global standpoint, Alshateri said that “a center of gravity” was lacking, as Washington’s declining role in the region will not allow it to play its traditional role of maintaining political order therein. He expressed cautious optimism by calling on the need to see results of the normalization of relations between Bahrain, the UAE and Israel leading to more countries joining the peace process.

“I personally advocate for something like a Westphalia peace treaty for the whole region where all countries, regardless of their ethnic composition or beliefs, can coexist in peace and harmony,” Alshateri said.

“If they cannot exist in harmony, at least they can exist within secure borders. If the new Abraham Accords can create such an environment or transformation, then we can talk about game changers. What impact the normalization of relations will have in the future is something to be tested.”

In conclusion, Alshateri called for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to be resolved, adding that it is the core issue between Arabs and Israelis. “Solving this problem will push us forward to a more stable and secure region,” he said. “Absence of that will make it harder. There will be great resentment publicly.”

Participating in the same panel discussion, Amos Yadlin, a retired major-general in the Israel Defense Forces and executive director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, chalked up the Israel-UAE-Bahrain normalization process to a convergence of interests and values, including modernization, moderation, stability and peace.

“The potential of a game changer is to show the public in the Middle East, which is suffering from civil wars in Syria, Libya and Iraq, the negative influence of Turkey and Iran and to show that there is another way of having better relations that will trickle down to everyone, not only among leaders,” Yadlin said.

“The potential is also there to move forward on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. The UAE stopped the annexation, and the Palestinians can come back to negotiate. It’s going to be even easier with the new US administration. The Gulf has figured out that it can use the peace accords to promote negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Another strategic potential cited by Yadlin was more cooperation among Gulf states, Israel and the US to cope with “Iranian terror activity” and proxies of Iran, which he said were destabilizing the Middle East.

“We can cooperate here,” he said. “We are not looking for war, nor clashes. But the very fact that Iran will know we are sharing intelligence and we are together to cope with the challenges is another opportunity for a game changer in the Middle East. If trust is built among the leaders and the people, we can all see a better Middle East.”

KETAMA, Morocco: 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. The local strain of marijuana, known as Beldiya, is coveted by aficionados but is gradually disappearing from the fields in the North African kingdom. Nowadays in Ketama, a ]]>