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