Many travelers today associate Morocco with hashish (kif), but although the country’s production of the drug is centuries old, it was not until the early 1970s that Morocco became internationally recognized for it…
Indeed, until the start of an increasing influx of foreign “hippies” into the country in the late 20th century, much of the cannabis produced in Morocco actually served to satisfy the domestic demand for kif (a mixture of tobacco and chopped pieces of marijuana). Today, it is estimated that Morocco produces anywhere from one third to almost half of all hashish sold around the world, supplying the vast majority of Europe’s demand.
While this article does not seek to promote any kind of illegal activity, it is a fact that many travelers use hash when visiting Morocco and it is important for all to be informed of a few issues surrounding hashish and kif.
Kif has been widely smoked by Moroccan men especially since the Spanish conquerors began to encourage its cultivation in an effort to keep the peace. Today, nearly all of Morocco’s cannabis production can be found in the Rif Mountains, which stretch from the Mediterranean Sea to the port city of Tangier. This region has traditionally been populated by Berber tribes and is one of the poorest in the country due to the historically strained relationship between the tribes and the Arab-led central government. The drug industry thus provides a much needed economic base for the poor in this region, who rely heavily on the crop for subsistence. This explains in part why government efforts to shut down the national drug industry have been unsuccessful.
Morocco has recently revisited its policies on cannabis production in relation to medicinal use, with Moroccan Parliament adopting laws to regulate the plant’s production for medical, cosmetic and industrial purposes. As a result, farmers who organise into cooperatives in the northern mountain areas of Al Houceima, Taounat and Chefchaouen will gradually be allowed to grow cannabis to meet the needs of the legal market. This change in the law does not permit its use for recreation – the law is intended to improve farmers’ incomes and protect them from drug traffickers who control the cannabis trade and export it illegally to Europe.
On the other hand, this multi-million dollar industry has also continued to grow because of the high demand for the quality cannabis that is produced and processed in Morocco. The general population typically concede to hashish being Morocco’s most profitable industry (and export) which also means there are invariably many shadowy elements at play in and around these mountains.
Although the new law adopted in 2021 outlines the legal use of cannabis in medical, cosmetic and industrial purposes, the recreational drug industry surrounding kif remains strictly illegal in Morocco. It is illegal to cultivate cannabis, produce it, sell it and smoke it with varying penalties depending on the quantity you possess and area in which you are located.
Plenty of Moroccan cities are believed to be friendly to kif seekers. In many cities it can be considered safe to purchase and smoke hashish, but there are often police informers acting as dealers.
Penalties for being caught buying or smoking kif can range up to 10 years in a local prison but foreigners can sometimes be let off with a fine (this can be pricey as well).
The city of Chefchaouen, in the Rif Mountains, is considered a haven by kif-seeking backpackers. Its proximity to the epicenter of hash production in Morocco makes the drug readily available and dealers abound. Elsewhere in the Rif, it is best to be cautious as the mountainous areas are more sparsely populated and heavily occupied by military and law enforcement. It is best not to get involved in the drug industry in these areas as you are more likely to be caught and suffer the consequences. If you are hiking in the Rif Mountains, it is also not advisable to take photographs of fields of cannabis and certainly not of people working the fields – due to issues of legality, a local farmer might not want to feature in your next Instagram reel.
Two of the main tourist centers of Morocco, Marrakesh and Fez, are also places where hash is purchased. In these places, dealers will usually wait until dusk and hang around the more crowded areas and tourist hotspots (such as Jemaa el-Fnaa square) to approach foreigners looking to buy Moroccan hash. Such exchanges are illegal, even if they are sometimes overlooked by the police. As a tourist in these areas you might be approached with some persistence by small time dealers – keep in mind that if you are not interested in buying hashish, it is perfectly acceptable to respond with a firm ‘no’ or to make yourself clear in local dialect, Lla.
Smoking kif in Morocco is commonplace, especially among men. It is often smoked in a joint by mixing it with tobacco and rolling it up, or in a pipe which can be purchased in most markets around Morocco. This pipe – or sebsi in darija – can be found alongside tourist t-shirts and carpets in the medina, but that doesn’t mean you should take it for granted that as a tourist you can light up your sebsi with your atay!
In most Moroccan cities, you may find small cafes where local men can be seen smoking their pipes and playing cards or drinking tea. This is a good place to smoke for men, but only if you are accompanied by a local. If you are a woman or don’t have a trusted local to help you out, there are plenty of guesthouses and hostels where people feel safe enough to smoke. This is especially true in Chefchaouen. A beach or any natural spot away from crowds are often areas where people go to smoke. Most avoid smoking while walking around town or in a public place, as that will draw attention.
The production and selling of kif is undoubtedly one of Morocco’s most profitable industries, and its long history in the country has made locals very accepting of the drug.
However, it is important to keep in mind that buying and smoking hashish and kif remains an illegal activity in Morocco and is not a recommended activity for travelers.
Pauline de Villiers Brettell is a freelance writer and designer who lives between the UK and Morocco. When in Morocco she is based in the small seaside village of Asilah, and spends time working with local weavers and sourcing textiles in between attempting to grow enough olives for an annual supply of olive oil! She writes about all of these things — the olives, the carpets, and other elements of design inspiration — on her blog Tea in Tangier: www.teaintangier.com.
Photos by Lucas Peters. Lucas is the principal photographer and author of the Moon Guidebooks: Morocco as well as Marrakesh and Beyond published by Hachette. He edited and contributed to the Our Morocco anthology and helps the travelers of Journey Beyond Travel experience the adventure of a lifetime. He lives in Tangier with his family.