With a number of countries legalising cannabis for medical and/or recreational use, it is reasonable to wonder whether Algeria, a country in North Africa with plenty of land and sun, is missing out on a juicy industry.
Nothing could be more of a taboo subject than legalising cannabis in a muslim majority country, but one has to look at facts rather than preconceptions. With the war on drugs, and particularly the war on cannabis, falling miserably around the world, Algeria has maintained its repressive attitude towards the use of cannabis, disregarding in the process all the key success factors that would give the country an advantage over other producers.
Cannabis vs hard drugs
No one in their right mind should advocate the legalisation of class A drugs such as cocaine or heroine, however cannabis is very different, it has an undeniable medical value and a proven low impact on health, many nations across the world have been using the drug to address medical conditions otherwise difficult to treat with approved traditional medication.
Walking around London, cannabis enthusiasts smoke freely around town, the police does not enforce what the legislation prescribes, as a matter of fact, getting caught in London with a spliff, will get you a fine at most, essentially a parking ticket. There is no doubt that cannabis consumption is tolerated by the authorities and the same attitude can be observed in many other Western countries.
Even in countries where it is supposed to be illegal, big Pharma is already involved. In the U.K for example, whilst Theresa May denigrates cannabis on a daily basis, mostly to pander to her conservative electorate, her husband directs the largest cannabis producer in the world, GW Pharmaceuticals. A number of analysts have seen in this, a common case of corruption and nepotism, allowing only your friends or relatives to partake in a growing industry whilst everyone else is legally excluded.
Considering alcohol, a much more harmful substance, is openly sold in Algeria and other muslim countries, it is hypocritical to single out cannabis as the devil in chief when research has proven, time and time again, that alcohol is a much more devastating substance for public health.
For readers who may not be aware, getting caught with any amount of cannabis in Algeria can land you an automatic minimum sentence of 6 months in jail, if not longer, thousands of teenagers are currently rotting in Algerian prisons for getting caught with no more than a single joint. They’re criminalised for doing what teenagers are supposed to do.
Special police and army checkpoints are set up across Algerian cities, meant to identify drug users whilst they drive past; known as “positions“, these checkpoints strike fear, intimidation into anyone who dares drive past.
The legislation in place has been criticised as inadequate and is so poorly elaborated that it does not differentiate between a plant like cannabis and a hard drug like heroine.
We meet a young man in the centre of Algiers who accepted to share with us his experience, he deplored the authorities’ attitude towards cannabis “We’re young and we want to have fun, just like the youth in other countries but unfortunately legalisation will never happen, the mentalities here are too backward and the islamists weight in the authorities’s policies. When you see senior officials involved in cocaine trafficking getting off scot-free and compare it to a 16 years old kid thrown in jail for a joint, it’s sad, you can really see the inequalities and the unfairness of the system“.
An indoor grow in Canada or elsewhere where sunlight is scarce, is substantially costlier, and growing outdoors is not an option. A 600 watts HPS light which essentially covers up to four large plants, would cost an average of $30 per month to run in electricity costs alone, depending on the country. Adding transport costs, nutrients cost, labour, etc., weed grown in natural sun light is much more cost effective.
If there’s anything we will never run out of in Algeria, it’s probably the intense sunlight, infinite land and rife boredom.
Unemployment is rife too, thousands of young people are dying in the mediterranean trying to make their way to Europe for the lack of opportunities in Algeria.
In addition, with oil revenues decreasing, the country desperately needs foreign currency, it needs to identify opportunities early on rather than wait until everyone else has gotten ahead.
A number of countries have moved towards legalisation, notably Canada and Uruguay with their full legalisation of cannabis. Luxembourg, New Zealand, Thailand, the U.S, Mexico, Israel, Lesotho, Spain, the Netherlands, or Switzerland, to name only a few, are all putting in place legislation geared towards partial or full legalisation.
The central position of Algeria, geographically speaking, gives the country an undeniable advantage, cannabis could potentially be shipped worldwide: North America, South America, Europe to begin with and in the future to other continents as legalisation grows.
Big business such as Coca-Cola and Philip Morris are already gearing up to invest and profit off the industry’s expected growth. Multi-billion deals are made weekly in the industry, cannabis companies are consolidating into large groups, getting listed in international stock exchanges in the process. And here in Algeria, the discourse still remains regressive.
Islam in all this
Technically speaking, Islam forbids all substances that cause mind alteration. But how do you define ‘mind alteration‘ exactly? Coffee alters your mind, so does sugar or nicotine.
Another invalid argument is the one whereby Islam forbids anything that harms your body. Walking around Algiers’ city centre one can’t help but be overwhelmed by all the junk food sold everywhere, men chain-smoking cigarettes, pollution and unregulated products.
Obesity is on the rise, yet you don’t see any legislation in place forbidding people from having Nutella, because by the islamists’ logic, Nutella should be haram.