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Morocco votes 'Yes' in historic UN vote on rescheduling cannabis

Image of a cannabis plant [Sadak Mohamed/Anadolu Agency]
Cannabis plant, 3 July 2017 [Sadak Mohamed/Anadolu Agency]

Morocco was among several other countries who voted in favour of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND)'s rescheduling cannabis and cannabis-related substances as a less dangerous drug. The vote was cast on Wednesday at Vienna during the CND's 63rd session.

The tightly contested poll which saw 27 votes in favour and 25 against (including one abstention) followed six World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations last year that "cannabis and cannabis resin should be scheduled at a level of control that will prevent harm caused by cannabis use and at the same time will not act as a barrier to access and to research and development of cannabis-related preparation for medical use".

The move could potentially path the way for wider international recognition of the medical and therapeutic use of cannabis as the vote will see the drug removed from the UN's Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs – a category of drugs which are considered among the most dangerous and highly addictive drugs.

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The decision has been welcomed by cannabis advocates around the world, however cannabis remains on Schedule I meaning that it is still subject to strict international controls and is still largely deemed as an illegal recreational drug.

"The medical cannabis wave has accelerated in recent years already, but this will give it another boost," Martin Jelsma, Drugs and Democracy programme director at the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute, told Marijuana Business Daily.

Morocco was notable in being the only CND-member state from the MENA region to vote in favour and was only one of two African states to do so with Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Turkey voting "No". Other Muslim-majority countries outside the region who voted against the decision were Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

In April Lebanon became the first Arab country to legalise cannabis for farming and industrial purposes and in May Israel approved the exportation of medical cannabis.

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However, World Morocco News reported that the legalisation of the cash crop could lead to a major economic boom for the North African country, which has been cultivating the cannabis plant for centuries. The cannabis trade in Morocco is said to be worth around $10 billion a year, supplying 70 per cent of the European cannabis market. It is also the world's biggest producer of hashish or cannabis resin which is mainly grown and produced in northern Rif Mountains, despite a nationwide prohibition on its production. Prior to 1956 it was legal in some parts of the country.

The industry also employs an estimated 800,000 people in the country, providing a source of income for around 90,000 to 140,000 families.

The kingdom has recently been intensifying its crackdown on drug trafficking activities with sources suggesting Morocco's King Mohammed VI has ordered the hard-line approach after previous accusations of turning a blind eye to the lucrative drug trade. Last year the number of individuals arrested in drug-related cases in Morocco reached 127,049, an increase of 38 per cent compared to the previous year and seized over 179 tonnes of cannabis.

As recently as Wednesday it was reported that Moroccan security services in the city of Fez had seized 1.3 tonnes of cannabis resin from two drug traffickers and the day before thwarted a cocaine smuggling operation in Tangier in collaboration with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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AfricaInternational OrganisationsMoroccoNewsUN
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