A lot of people think they know a lot about Moroccan hashish, and I thought I did until I went there! Having been a daily smoker of cannabis for somewhere in the region of eighteen years I'd come to learn quite a lot about it, but it wasn't until I actually travelled to Rif mountains that I got a real education in the subject... Here are some of the things that I learnt:
Around 70% of the world's hash comes from Morocco, and about 95% of Morocco's hash comes from the province of Ketama - the province that dominates the Rif Mountains. The story goes that the people of Ketama, the Ketamese, always saw themselves as a separate entity from the state of Morocco; they resisted the Moroccan authorities for a long time, they fought fiercely for their independence and were a constant thorn in the side of the Moroccan state apparatus. One day, in the latter part of the mid-twentieth century, the Moroccan monarch of the day offered them a deal - put your guns down, stop fighting us, submit to our rule and we'll let you keep your hashish culture. This was agreed to and the Ketamese tentatively agreed to join the young state we know as Morocco.
In the years following this agreement the legalised Ketamese hashish culture grew from strength to strength until it dominated the agriculture of the region. The cultivation of cannabis gradually began to seep outside the borders of Ketama though... Export and tourist trades grew up around it and foreigners started to flock to this historically inhospitable region of North Africa.
These days Ketama still has a fearsome reputation - a visit to the region is certainly not for the faint-hearted, or easily intimidated. There are a lot of big money dealers, smugglers, suppliers and farmers in The Rif. There are a lot of ‘crooked' cops, soldiers, townsfolk and business owners there as well - pretty much everyone in the Rif seems to be involved in the hash business one way or another - it's the crop that the economy of the entire region is now based on.
That is, intentionally, a very brief and vague political history, because the real point of this blurb is to talk about the hashish itself.
Using the title Moroccan Hashish is like using the title American Movies - a lot of American movies get made by a lot of different people; some are good, some are terrible; some are made by independent movie producers and distributed by independent distributors, whilst some are churned out by the giant movie houses and distributed by massive distribution companies. The same things can be said of Moroccan hashish.
In the Rif, circa 2010, they are growing three main strains of cannabis: the traditional blonde Moroccan, a red Moroccan variety and a Pakistani variety. They are also stabilising a new strain, a genetic combination of the three main strains - they call this Hardura. It is important for them to continually crossbreed the strains and produce new seed stocks in order to stop the strains stagnating and losing their vital characteristics.
Producing hash from these plants is quite a time consuming business. First the mature crop needs to be harvested; this is done around September/October when the summer is drawing to a close. The plants are then dried before they are stored until the weather gets cold. When the temperature drops the hashish trichomes break away from the plant much easier, boosting the quality of the final product.
When dried and cold, usually around November, the plants are traditionally put onto the top of a fine mesh screen which is secured over the top of a large bowl. The bowl and the plants are then put into plastic (fertiliser) bags and bashed gently with sticks; this knocks the trichomes from the plant and they fall through the screen, into the bowl. The first bashing of each plant is known as Dobley Zero Zero - the best quality. However, in order to make the very best quality hashish one must be selective in the plants, and parts of plants, one chooses to bash... If you bash the lower branches of a small, stunted plant you're not going to get particularly good hash - this is because small plants are closer to the ground and far more prone to collect the dirt and dust that gets blown around, don't forget these are real plants grown in real dirt! A small amount of this natural ‘pollution' is inevitable. If one chooses the big top buds from a large mature plant then one can be sure that there will be a minimal amount of dirt mixed in with the final product. The first bashing of the top buds of the big plants is the best of the best!
The plants are kept after the first bashing and put to one side. When the farmer, or basher, is happy that they've bashed enough Dobley Zero Zero they'll keep the hash in powder form, wrap it in plastic and store it in a cool dry place - this prevents the oils from evaporating too quickly.
The plants are then bashed up to three or four times more, or until the farmer is happy with his collected weight of hashish - he might choose to keep the different bashings separate, as each bashing is a slightly lower quality than the previous one, or he might mix them all up in one batch. Regardless of how he chooses to mix it, he always keeps it in powder form until it's ready to be sold - all serious buyers and smokers will want to see their hash in this state before they part with their money.
As was said earlier, there are three main strains grown in the Rif at the time of writing - blonde, red, and Paki. The blonde is the traditional hash of Morocco, and the hash most people tend to think of when they think of ‘Moroccan hash'. The blonde variety has quite a smooth taste and a steady, heady high - she's not too strong, very talkative, and a good high for getting things done - she's a good one for climbing mountains! For every 100kg of plant they get 1kg of good quality hashish.
The red variety is a very different beast though; a strong, trippy high that hits you right between the eyes. She hits you fast but wears off quite quickly as well. For every 100kg of the red plant they get 1.5kg of good quality gear.
The Pakistani is the Queen of them all though - she gives a strong and heavy high that lasts a long time. If you're greedy and smoke a big joint of it in the morning you can find yourself rooted for a good few hours until you finally manage to drag your dazed self off for something to eat. The best thing to do after that is find your spot again and roll another one cos she's a day killer... Leave the Pakistani alone till evenings if you've got things you want to get done! For the farmers though, the best thing about the Pakistani variety is that for every 100kg of plant they bash they get 2kg of good quality hash.
I wasn't able to find out too many details about the Hardura strain - it isn't being grown as extensively as the other three yet and it still isn't stabilised. I tried a few different batches and they varied in quality and strength.
Some farmers grow all of these varieties; some choose to grow only one or two. Some farmers have European contacts who supply them with different seeds as well... The best hash I managed to find out there was grown by a small scale independent farmer on the fringe of Ketama - his hash was a 50/50 Paki Afghan combination. He'd harvested it at the perfect time at the end of a very good season; after the hash had been wrapped in plastic and walked on for a few hours inside his shoe it was black on the outside but grey when it was torn open: the holy grail of quality hashish!
Quality is a big issue in the drug business - it's even hard to find good quality hash in Morocco once you're outside the Rif. A lot of the dealers use a range of pollutants to bulk the hash out before they sell it on to Joe Bloggs smoker - this is one of the reasons the dealers like to buy it in its unpressed powder form. Even before it is bulked out by dishonest dealers though, there are a number of other variables that affect the quality and quantity of the product: the amount of rain the preceding winter will affect the size of the harvest; the amount of sun the crop gets while it is growing will affect the quality and quantity, as will the type and strength of the fertiliser used. A few days of gusty wind immediately before the harvest will affect the quality as well - if a lot of dust gets blown around the plants before they are harvested then a degree of natural contamination is unavoidable. If the plants are bashed in warmer than ideal temperatures then the plants have to be bashed harder than is preferable; this leads to a lower quality end product as well.
Added pollutants are the real problem though. Unscrupulous dealers will use almost anything to bulk the hash out - henna, coffee, sugar and dirt are the most common. Also, shit, plastic, shoe polish and anything else that looks even remotely like hash is used. This is why it's important to buy the powder, and to learn how to test it before you buy it.
Testing hash is relatively simple when you know how. The best way is to put a small amount of the powder in the palm of your hand and run the flame of a lighter over it a couple of times - good hash will bind together quite easily if a little heat is shown to it. You can then press it in your hand and once you've got a solid piece you'll be able to run a flame over it and watch the oils bubble up. Good hash catches fire quite readily as well. The more heat you have to put through it before it binds together then the lower the quality is. (But, bear in mind that if you're trying to heat it up in the middle of winter on the side of a damp and freezing mountain it'll take a bit longer than normal!) If you want to get really technical you can take a x30 microscope along with you and analyse the trichome heads in minute detail, but the flame test is always the best and you'll end swapping your mic for a bit of smoke anyway!
If you're lucky enough to be presented with a variety of strains and qualities somewhere then you'll be free to concoct your very own mixture... Maybe you want 20g of 50% blonde 00 and 50% Paki 00? Maybe 20kg of 70% Paki no.2, 10% blonde no.2, 10% red no.2 and 10% henna? The possible combinations are endless, and the price will vary accordingly.
In summary; the variety of seed, the freshness of seed stock, the amount of rain, the quality of soil, the length of the summer, the time of harvesting, the amount and type of fertiliser, the wind, the temperature at the time of bashing, the number of bashings the plants have had, and the levels of natural and added pollutants will all affect the quality of the hash. Moroccan hash varies from year to year, valley to valley, from farmer to farmer, from batch to batch, and even from day to day, but once you get your head around a few of these variables you'll be better informed than the vast majority of smokers on the planet... Happy smoking!
Post script: After 7 month's research in Morocco I was finally able to give up my compulsive and damaging 18 year daily habit. Having learnt more about the business than I ever imagined there was to know, and having spent those months immersed in the home of hashish means that when I've got the choice between smoking some second or third rate cannabis or smoking nothing at all I'd rather smoke nothing at all. There's still nothing quite like getting high on some good pot, but why waste time, money, lung capacity and grey matter getting fucked up on some over-fertilised, badly grown, adulterated and uncured weed?