Covid-19 and Cannabis. Morocco.
Photo by Kyriacos Georgiou.

Covid-19 and Cannabis: A farmer’s tale

Covid-19 impacted cannabis culture in strange ways. In Morocco, stoners have spread the rumour of an authentic cannabis tour. Being the world’s top cannabis producer, we flew to Morocco to check that rumour.

My friend Marco and I wandered through the blue city of Chefchaouen before reaching our hotel on the main square. A delicious smell of hash — cannabis resin — floated in the lobby. The clerk, a teenager named Hakim, took our passports for the check-in. As I stayed with Hakim, Marco went exploring. He returned from the terrace with a big smile on his face. Marco had found a piece of hash the size of a dice, casually leftover on the terrace table! In the Chefchaouen region, cannabis was as common as tagine or mint tea. Hakim gave us the key and returned to his terrace chair, where he lit up a fat joint. We asked him about the cannabis tour.

El Kalaa is a lost hamlet north of Chefchaouen, where local farmers grow cannabis. The legalization debate began with Covid-19 in Morocco, and the parliament was in favour of medicinal use. On the police side though, nothing had changed. Three military checkpoints blocked the road from Chefchaouen to El Kalaa. Hakim sketched us a map of the region.

Cannabis farming in the Rif

Cannabis culture.
Covid-19 and Cannabis.
The road to El Kalaa. Rif mountains. Morocco.

We followed the map through hilly, quiet woods. At the pass, we stopped in wonder: Cannabis crops extended on both flanks of the valley. Marco spotted a straw hat among the plants. The man heard our car and rose to give us the peace sign. We pulled over, introduced ourselves and the reason for our visit. The man nodded and handed us a chunk of hash to try, a sample the size of an egg! The Rif thrived in abundance.

Another farmer, Mohamed, walked across the field to greet us. He was in his early forties, small and fit, with the wrinkles and skin of a field worker. His family owned a cannabis farm for generations, and he was proud of his legacy. We asked him to be our guide for the day.

Cannabis in the time of Covid-19

We toured the Rif mountains and punctuated every viewpoint with a smoke break. Mohamed had never seen the region so quiet he said, as he filled his pipe with Kif. Dried cannabis crop is called Kif; it is chopped in a powder and contains little THC compared to hash. It takes around 100 kg of Kif to make 1–3 kg of hash. Mohamed treated himself with hash at the end of the day. “To clear the head and sleep better”, he said.

After the hike, we headed to Mohamed’s place. He lived in a rustic concrete cabin built on the hillside. Behind the house was his cannabis plantation. Mohamed’s father, an old man with a straight posture, served us mint tea as we waited for his son in the living room. He returned pushing two large fabric bags. “This year is special”, Mohamed’s father said, “we have only two strains. If you find anything else, watch out, it’s from last year’s harvest”.

They had the native Moroccan Sativa and a Mexican Indica, the sole foreign strain. Covid-19 restrictions prevented local farmers from getting their shipment of seeds from abroad. Mohamed dragged the two fabric bags to our feet. They were full of dried cannabis buds. Ones were yellow and the others a pale green. The yellow buds were the native Cannabis Sativa used to make hash.

The golden pollen

Mohamed poured the yellow buds into a large plastic basket and wrapped two layers of black nylon around it. He used two wooden sticks and began slamming the basket. With rhythm and intensity, Mohamed beat the drums. He was focused on the task. Sweat formed on his temples as he pounded the basket, shook it hard and pounded again. At last, Mohamed unwrapped the basket and revealed a golden powder against the black cloth. This was Sigirma, the purest and first-quality cannabis pollen, with a THC concentration of around 20 percent. Farmers extract the pollen by hand and pass it to the city for industrial processing. There it is pressed, cut, and distributed to the rest of the world.

In recent years, Moroccan farmers have been experimenting with cannabis seeds. Foreign seeds arrived by boat and were sent to the fields for harvest. The elevation and ideal temperature in the Rif mountains boosted the cannabis culture and growth of non-native strains, offering a larger variety to smokers and more margins for farmers.

Covid-19 disrupted cannabis culture and international trade, preventing farmers from getting foreign seeds. Besides, government restrictions and lockdowns prohibited social gatherings. Faced with no options, people stayed inside and smoked hash as a side effect of Covid-19. Mohamed confessed he sold more hash during the pandemic than ever before. As a farmer though, he felt ashamed about his limited selection. He promised to have more variety the next time we visit.

Have you ever been on a cannabis tour? Tell us about it in the comments!