By ERIK TANNER
When you enter a country with no free press it’s probably best not to disclose to border security that you’re a journalist, as I naively did at the Marrakesh International Airport earlier this month.
When it dawned on me that I had unwittingly made myself a person of interest, I held back telling customs agents that I cover weed for a living. I also didn’t say it was my hope to taste the local hash and, who knows, maybe write about the experience for the folks back home in Canada, where cannabis legal.
I provided what I thought were safe credentials and without much hassle, they let me in.
Morocco is said to supply a third to half of the world’s hashish. This north African country is ruled by a king and the police are everywhere, but mostly unseen. They would most certainly do a follow-up in a day or so with the manager of the riad I was staying in
in Medina in the old part of Marrakesh.
The penalty for buying or smoking hashish or cannabis is10 years in jail. The police are tolerant, but they have been known to nab the occasional tourist.
I came to Marrakesh not just for the hash, but to experience the people.
Medina’s narrow pathways are crammed with citizens from all over the African continent. Vendors, donkey carts and motorbikes, spice dealers, restaurants and jewellers abound. The locals love to haggle over everything, as do the hash dealers.
Luckily for me, I met a fellow traveller who showed me a chunk he bought for 250 dirham, about $35. With that price in mind, I ventured out into the streets until I came across a seller that I didn’t find too threatening.
The fellow tells me he’s aBerber(an Indigenous Moroccan) and that the hash he can get is the very best. He says it comes from the Atlas Mountains. He says I need to follow him to a “very nice place” to complete our transaction.
I’m not liking it. We walk off together down a maze of narrow laneways no more than two metres wide, until I lose my bearings. It’s cramped and the temperature is about 38 Celsius.
We reach an open area where three boys are kicking around a soccer ball. My dealer knocks on a door, “My brother,” he says. They chat. His “brother” disappears back inside. He tells me to stay put while he goes to get the hash.
Now I’m alone in the lane with three kids knocking a ball about. I can’t say how long I waited, but I finally gave up and began walking back. At the first corner I turn, there I find my dealer. He says he’s just returned, but I suspect the kids, the brother, the making me wait is all part of a show.
He does have the hash, but he’s asking 1,500 dirham. I tell him I’ll pay 250 and that’s it. He wants to walk away but relents and agrees to my price. Once the exchange is done, he is all smiles and wishes me the very best during my stay.
I got my hash, and I have it my head this business is over with. But Medina can be a strange and spooky place. As I navigate my way home, a shop vendor loudly “meows” at me. Weird.
Soon after that, another vendor shouts “boo” at me out of the blue. I’m taken aback, not just by the “boo,” but by the cacophony of laughter that follows from the nearby vendors.
Then before my last turn toward my home base an older man standing to the side suddenly turns to me and says the hash I bought is shit and that his is of superior quality. I’m in the Twilight Zone. I make the local cultural gesture of placing my right hand over my heart and trot off to the safety of my riad.
Back in my room, I lovingly caress and squeeze my precious piece of hash. I break off a piece to take in its thick musky fragrance. Now what? I have no private place to smoke.
My room is private, but it’s anything but airtight. Smoking in the riadwas not an option. I find a nearby laneway where I fire up my recently purchased hash pipe and burn through a few bowls. I’m happy with the quality of the hash, but not the vibe of the lane. I head back to the riad’srooftop terrace to enjoy my stone. I have to say, my compliments to the Berbers.
There was not enough time during my five-day visit to smoke it all. I offered what was left of my hash to a nice woman I met. She was taken aback that I couldn’t take it home with me.
Erik Tanner is co-author of Highlights: A Trippy History of Cannabis now available on Amazon Kindle.