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Both Marijuana And Tobacco Light Up Politics In Morocco

Smoking a cigarette in Marrakesh
Smoking a cigarette in Marrakesh

CASABLANCA — With one proposal to criminalize tobacco and another to legalize marijuana, Moroccan politics these days is smoking. Casablanca-based daily Aujourd'hui Le Maroc reports that the governing Justice and Development Party (PJD) is proposing a law that would prohibit the sale and consumption of tobacco from hookah water pipes across the country.

The moderate Islamist PJD, formerly aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, want to punish users with up to three years in jail and a 20,000 dirham ($2,050) fine, with sellers facing up to five years in prison and charged up to 50,000 dirhams ($5,130). The use of Hookah, locally known as shisha, is widely popular in Morocco, often consumed at cafés, bars and nightclubs. The PJD cites studies showing that smoking shisha tobacco is more harmful than smoking cigarettes as justification for its new policy.

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Water pipes in Marrakesh — Photo: just_a_cheeseburger

Meanwhile in the northern city of Tangier, a regional governor from an opposition party took a very different attitude to smoking — but not of tobacco. Last week human rights organizations, local groups and international representatives met at an international conference on marijuana, organized by governor Ilyas El Omari of the center-left Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM). His region includes the Rif, a mountainous area famed for its cannabis production. Locally known as kif, marijuana has long been the main source of income for local farmers. The conference sought alternatives to government repression of the marijuana trade, which has decimated incomes in the impoverished region and targeted small consumers.

Representatives decried the failure of Morocco's war on drugs, and encouraged the country to rethink its potential as an increasingly popular source of marijuana for the European market. While the sale and consumption of marijuana is still illegal in the country, analysts estimate the market is worth 10% of Morocco's GDP, roughly $11.7 billion a year.

The country's second- and third-largest parties — the conservative Istiqlal party and the center-left PAM — support legalizing the medicinal and industrial use of cannabis.

Both supporters of marijuana legalization and tobacco restrictions, it turns out, say they have the same concern in mind: the health of Moroccan citizens.

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