On the trail of an old Moroccan drug smuggling route

A new exhibition and accompanying zine offers a photographic documentation of James Edson and Samuel Stamper’s 4000-mile road trip

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It’s Like Bradford In The 80s
It’s Like Bradford In The 80sPhotography James Edson and Samuel Stamper

While cannabis has been illegal in Morocco since the nation’s independence in 1956, its growth across the mountainous Rif region in the far north of the country is – partially, at least – tolerated. Morocco is said to supply almost half of the world’s hashish, with an estimated 800,000 Moroccans risking arrest to make a living from the industry. From as early as the 1960s, the area has been a pilgrimage for Weed-smoking Westerners – and one that James Edson and Samuel Stamper know all about.

Inspired by its audacious history, the duo decided to take same 4000-mile route across Morocco used by drug smugglers in the 1970s, photographing the journey as they went along. Starting in Taghazout, they trekked up to Marakkech, into the mountains to Chefchaouen and Ketama, then back down to Fez, and into the Sahara to Ouarzazet, M’hamid and beyond to the Algerian boarder. Now, the photos – shot entirely on film – they gathered throughout the summer-long road trip are forming the base of It’s Like Bradford In The 80s, an exhibition and accompanying zine that documents their journey along the country’s iconic hash trail.  

Ahead of the photo show and zine launch at the Doomed Gallery on April 29, we spoke to Edson and Stamper about why they decided to make the trip, where the project’s title comes from and the drug-fuelled adventures they found themselves in along the way. 

Why did you decide to make the journey?

James Edson: Initially it was Sam’s idea to make a cookbook for the riad he owns detailing the areas and ingredients through photography. We eventually put that idea on ice, as it would have taken a lot more research to do well and we only had the two months that I was in Morocco for. The idea changed to the hash trail because we knew the route. There was also a show called Kif by Seba Kurtis at the Wayward Gallery which was probably my favourite ever one there – it was about a smuggler that went missing in the same area, so it was kind of an ode to that.  

How much did you know about the route’s history as a drug smuggling passage?

James Edson: Sam’s knowledge of the trail is second to none. Mine not so much!

You mention that one of the aims of the project was to “adventure along the road” – what kind of adventures did you get into?

Samuel Stamper: All kinds of craziness – from scoring opium in the middle of Chefchaouen from a guy who looked like a cross between a Harry Potter character and a crack head, to sitting in a cabin in Ketama with quite possibly the biggest block of hash and a man who looked like a contender for psychopath of the year.

“The farmers in the north of Morocco told us they are given a permit to grow for medical use, but they just sell it to anyone. The farmers we met were offering container sized quantities – not kilos or grams. The scale is epic” – Samuel Stamper

Did you get a chance to speak to any of the farmers you photographed – if so, what kind of things did you discuss?

Samuel Stamper: The farmers in the north of Morocco told us they are given a permit to grow for medical use, but they just sell it to anyone. The farmers we met were offering Container sized quantities – not kilos or grams. The scale is epic. Just a few years ago in Spain a Dutch guy was caught with 24 tonnes of Moroccan hash en route to the Netherlands.

Why did you decide on It's like Bradford in the 80s as the project’s title?

James Edson: It was a joke we made while we were on the road. One of the places we came across was full of loads of toothless people smoking hash – like Bradford in the 80s. No offense to anyone from either place. We both grew up in the north, so toothlessness and soap bar were a big part of life.

Now the trip’s over, what do you miss most about the country?

James Edson: The weather and the desert for me.

Samuel Stamper: I still live here running my hotel, Mountain Riad. What I miss from England? Fish and chips – and the shit weather.

It’s Like Bradford in the 80s runs at Doomed Gallery 29 April – 30 April

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