Canada's legalization of marijuana could hurt farmers in poorer countries

 Abdelkhalek Ben Abdellah inspects cannabis in his fields in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco.

(CNN)For decades poor farmers in countries like Jamaica and Morocco have risked the wrath of governments and gangsters to grow cannabis as a cash crop.

But as Canada becomes the first country in the Group of Seven leading industrial nations to fully legalize marijuana, those countries where the crop has traditionally been grown risk losing out on new legal markets worth billions of dollars.
When people think of cannabis production in developing countries, they tend to picture drug cartels and bandits.
    The truth, says Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute (TNI), a Dutch drug-policy research organization, is that most growers are poor farmers, often women, who cultivate marijuana on small holdings in the hills and mountains.
    Now they are competing with Western corporations. And with no international institution to represent them because of the illegality of marijuana in most of the world -- even the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, whose mandate is to fight rural poverty and hunger, has no experts or policy on this cash crop -- growers risk being left behind.
    "It's all about trying to bring some of these small farmers into the opening market," said Jelsma.
    "The big risk is there is a complete corporate capture going on. It's happening in the medical market, especially with Canadian and Israeli companies, and there is a lot of money involved," he said.

    Supplying the Netherlands

    One of the first countries to go soft on soft drugs was the Netherlands, where smoking pot in coffee shops has been tolerated for decades.
    The Dutch government is currently considering setting up legalized production pilot projects, and the fear is there could be a negative impact on Morocco, which, Jelsma says, produces around 25% of cannabis consumed in the Netherlands.
    Marijuana plantations in the  Larache region of northern Morocco.
    "They are opting for a closed model -- only allowing products cultivated here -- which means shutting out from the market farmers in Morocco who have relied on Dutch coffee shop sales for decades," he said.
    Most of Morocco's hashish production takes place in the poor and politically volatile Rif mountains, where tens of thousands of families make their living from growing marijuana.

    Winds of change in the Caribbean

    In the Caribbean, sensing winds of change, countries are beginning to scale back legislation -- much of it demanded by countries like the US -- that prohibited marijuana use.
    In 2015, Jamaica legalized marijuana production for medical and religious purposes.
    Last month, a Jamaican company made the island's first shipment of medical marijuana extract oil to Canada.
    "Jamaica is uniquely positioned to be a global player and we are committed to providing the leadership and resources required for opening the international markets, including Canada and Europe, for our licensed and regulated Jamaican companies," said Audley Shaw, Jamaica's industry and farming minister.
    Cannabis grows in the hills above the beaches in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.