Traditional Moroccan cannabis genetics stubbed out by modern hybrids

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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 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Traditional genetics substituted by cash crops
The local cannabis strain in Ketama a region in the heart of the northern Rif region of Marocco known as Beldiya, is coveted by afficionados as kif but the last years has gradually been disappearing from the fields in the African kingdom. Nowadays a strain originating from the Netherlands called “Critical” is king in Ketama. A 27 year old cannabis farmer, says that he grows Critical because “the new imported seeds give a much higher yield.” Hybrids like Critical are notable also for high levels of THC. Critical grows in the dry summer, requiring heavy irrigation, while Beldiya is planted in winter, depending only on rainfall.

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the substitution of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable. Modern hybrid strains produce five to 10 kilos (11 to 22 pounds) 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 latest hybrids created in laboratories in Europe or North America to be introduced to Morocco have names like “Pakistana”, “Amnesia” and “Gorilla” which are popular for their potency and affordability. Critical sells for 2,500 dirhams per kilo ($252, 230 euros), while Beldiya goes for up to 10,000 dirhams per kilo, local sources say.

“The substitution of hybrids for kif might explain why the production of Moroccan hashish has barely decreased,” according to a 2015 study by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT).

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Environmental price
Kif is part of the culture that’s why producing 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.

Higher yields of imported hybrid strains come at a cost however, because they require heavy fertilization, which can damage the soil. And their insatiable thirst threatens the region’s water supplies, according to the OFDT. Some locals complain that major producers enforce the planting of hybrids accompanied by the installing of solar water pumps and waterdrip irrigation, even in arid areas: “The traffickers impose it and the people don’t have any other choice”.

Modern genetics is mediocre
While Maroccan growers switch or are imposed to grow hybrids like Critical, most keep smoking Beldiya themselves because as was mentioned by a local being, critical about Critical: “The modern varieties are mediocre.”
The Cannagenethics Foundation likes to stress the importance of the preservation of these original genetics like Beldiya which is crucial for the inheritance of the Maroccan and Berber kif culture dispite growers will be economically tempted by hybrid-trends. In fact Morocco already ractified the Convention on Biodiversity since 1995, so preservation of original cannabis genetics should be provided by the North African Kingdom as well.

The adoption of hybrids explains the “rapid and significant increase in the average THC content” of seized Moroccan hashish, according to the OFDT. While these assumibly would imply a THC : CBD disbalance compared to traditional hashish variaties. For smokers, the effect of hybrids compared to Beldiya is pronounced. “One makes you think, the other makes you paranoia” Thus European consumers no longer want hybrid cannabis on account of its high THC levels according to AFP, 10-10-2019.

Traditional Moroccan cannabis remains highly coveted, particularly by advocates of legalisation. Legalisation could help with preserving the more traditional and environmentally friendly Beldiya, that would mean that another price-quality balance is upcoming, counting also the environmental costs of growing hybrid genetics in the fields of the Rif mountains.