Travel

Making hash in Morocco

All photos: Kiran Herbert

For a little over a month a friend and I had been backpacking across Spain, surviving mostly on cheap red wine and the idyllic countryside. We eventually made it to the Portuguese coast, which we took our time exploring with the ultimate goal of reaching Morocco. Motivated mostly by memories of Casablanca and a hunger for food spiced with more than just paprika and salt, we sought advice from other travelers along the way. There emerged a general theme in our conversations with other Moroccan visitors — at least amongst the hostel-staying set: hash.

I'd consumed shroom shakes in Vang Vieng, Laos, had coca thrust upon me throughout South America, and spent a week as a zombie in Amsterdam. But this trip was something deeper, as hash is a drug thats fully entrenched in Morocco's culture and history.

Our excitement for Morocco was tempered, of course, by all the things that could go wrong: it’s dangerous for two females in a Muslim country; Casablanca’s actually overrated; Rabat has only one hostel; you’re going to get scammed; you won’t be able to swim in Essaouira; Tangier is the worst city of them all. We absorbed it all with well-versed skepticism, but there was one tidbit — imparted by an attractive Swiss surfer — that we took at face value. He mentioned a blue and white city named Chefchaouen, all small-town charm nestled in the mountains, where the people were nice and the surrounding fields were filled with cannabis. 

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Morocco is the “world’s largest cannabis resin producer.” Suffice it to say, Moroccans know a thing or two about hash. 

At least 800,000 locals live off the industry, which rakes in an estimated $10 billion in sales, most of it thanks to the large appetite of Western Europe. Marijuana is still considered an illegal substance in Morocco, though its use is commonplace; when we visited, more than one Moroccan man emphasized that they didn’t do drugs, even after we watched them toke up. It’s also a big draw for backpack-wielding tourists, though going to Morocco solely for hash is stupid, as it’s just as accessible across the Straight of Gibraltar. In fact, in Portugal, all drugs are decriminalized.

Chefchaouen also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, equally renowned for its goat’s cheese and rich history. Needless to say, we didn’t hesitate to make the trip.

Fresh off the ferry in Tangier, we found our way to the bus depot and made a quick connection. Although Moroccan buses don't have bathrooms and aren't exactly state of the art, the seats were filled mostly with students and the experience ended up being among our most pleasant on Moroccan public transportation. More than six hours after boarding, we were deep into the northern Moroccan countryside, slowly crawling towards the blue city.

As beautiful as the view from our Riad (a traditional Moroccan house) was, we had yet to see any fields of green — aside from grass and trees — though someone offered to sell us weed almost immediately. Exhausted, we ate a traditional dish, tagine, and left exploring for the following day.

Pro tip: If anyone takes your money and says they’ll return with a product, you’re being scammed. This is true in all countries.

Chefchaouen is a small city of just over 35,000 people, and after walking for 20 minutes we’d already reached the edge of town. Others had described a waterfall we sought out; it turned out to be a stream, but it was pleasant enough, and we sat to watch children play as women did laundry. To our right, a road ascended into the mountains with a man perched nearby. He started up a conversation — in good English, no less — though we were skeptical, being female in a foreign place. He promised the road led to a Spanish Mosque and an incredible view of the town. 

He happened to be heading that way, and as we walked, he told us about the town: that it was painted blue by Jewish refugees in the 1930s, and that because of its unique history, the area's language was less French, and more of a mix of Spanish, Arabic, and Berber than most of Morocco. He also explained the mountain range we were standing among was called the Rif Mountains. He paused before adding, “Sometimes we call them the Kif Mountains”. 

Kif is the Moroccan name for hash.

Abdulla, as we came to find out, gave off great vibes. He was a Berber, or a member of the ethnic group scattered throughout Northern Africa. Eventually, he invited us to have tea in his home and meet his family; he said it was a 30-minute hike.

My friend and I telepathically decided he was not going to murder us (we each undoubtably weighed more than Abdulla), and followed his lead deeper into the mountains. We passed through villages, stopped in his son’s classroom to meet the teacher and other children, and got a glimpse of life in Northwest Morocco. As we walked, the fields gradually become more lush, and at one point we even stopped to drink from a mountain spring.

We carried on through more fields, still unsure of where we were headed or what to expect. We also passed nasty dogs several times, truly scary animals that would bark intensely until they realized Abdullah was leading us, at which point they’d instantly calm down.

“My guard dogs,” he explained. At this point, it was still unclear why he needed guard dogs. But we had our suspicions.

Then it was obvious: a substantial amount of weed was being grown.

Abdullah gave us a quick tour of the fields — which were flanked by blackberries — and we met a few of his workers.

Eventually, we went to his house for sweet mint tea (“The whiskey of Morocco.”) and to meet his family. It was a dream of a landscape, and especially surreal considering how safe we felt in the middle of a marijuana field.

For those unfamiliar with the processes of drying marijuana leaves or producing hash, the Moroccan method differs completely from the American way. First, Moroccan weed is dried in the dark for months, much like aging wine, as opposed to drying the bud first for about a week and then curing it in a cool, dry place for a few months. 

The resulting dried product wouldn’t be considered a quality smoke by American standards, but since they were making hash and not weed, that wasn’t so important. The dry buds are then put in a bowl, covered with a filter of panty hose, and covered in another piece of cloth, sort of like the production of artisanal cheese. The bowl is then positioned between your feet, making it easier to beat repeatedly with sticks. 

Though my friend graciously offered to take a turn, the process is arduous, and a far cry from the ease with which Americans make bubble hash.

Once the weed had been beaten sufficiently, it was uncovered in a bowl. The resultant product was a powdered, concentrated weed, or what American aficionados call kief. Usually, the term refers the the THC crystals separated from the stems, leaves, and buds.

All in all, about a kilo (1,000 grams) of weed turned into 10 grams of kief. Abdullah informed us that in Morocco, this is what the ladies smoked, mixed with a bit of tobacco and rolled into a joint.

“Women don’t smoke the black hash.”

The word 'kif' apparently stems from the arabic word for pleasure, and over the course of our month-long stay in Morocco, we learned that sharing kif and a meal with new friends often went hand in hand; Abdullah's hospitality wasn't the exception but rather the norm. In an interesting turn of events, Abdullah was quite the yogi, and he easily executed a handstand on top of his chair. He was also filled with wisdom he’d likely shared with many a tourist. Our favorite: “When you smoke… it opens your mind."

We stayed with Abdullah for a few hours, eventually convincing him we could find our way back to the town. 

We couldn't, and we ended up stumbling across a group of young girls who spoke some Spanish and invited us to sit with them. They fed us fresh goat’s milk and khoobz (a flatbread and staple of Moroccan cuisine), and afterward showed us the way back to Chefchaouen proper.

Though there was a language barrier at points, and Abdullah was undoubtably running a business (we paid him well for the tour by Moroccan standards, a pittance by our own), it was an unforgettable day. All trips since have been set to a higher standard.