Lebanon Cannabis Trade Thrives in Shadow of Syrian War

إقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية W460

Lebanese marijuana grower Abu Sami is practically rubbing his hands together with glee: the Syrian conflict has paralyzed authorities at home and left the nearby border virtually uncontrolled.

"This year, the harvest was abundant, and the authorities have left us alone because they are otherwise occupied," he tells Agence France Presse in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa region.

In the past, the Lebanese army would descend annually to destroy some of the illicit crop, but this year the harvest has gone untouched.

The area shares a long, porous border with Syria and is a stronghold of Hizbullah, which is fighting alongside the Syrian regime against a 32-month-old uprising.

After the harvest in Abu Sami's bucolic village, at the foot of an arid mountain, marijuana is brought to buildings where it is dried and processed into hashish.

All along the winding roads of the Shiite hamlet, men and women work on the crop behind half-closed curtains, and defend the industry as their only source of employment.

During Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanese hashish, which is known for its quality, fed a flourishing industry that generated hundreds of millions of dollars a year in income.

Hashish is a cannabis product derived from the resin of the plant, and produced in large quantities in the Bekaa.

Under pressure from the United States, Lebanon has launched eradication campaigns, and in past years, the army bulldozed thousands of hectares of cannabis.

Farmers have often taken up arms to defend their crop -- growers fired a rocket at an eradication team in 2012 -- and call for the legislation of what they say is part of their ancestral culture.

But this year, there's been no sign of the army.

"The state is immersed in problems related to Syria and doesn't want to open a new front. Otherwise they would have come down hard on us," says Afif, a villager.

Government officials admit as much.

"There was no destruction of growing this year... The Syrian crisis played a major role in that," Joseph Skaff, chief of Lebanon's office for countering drugs, money laundering and terrorism, told AFP.

For Abu Sami, Afif and others working in the industry, Lebanon's instability and the war raging in Syria are blessings in disguise.

'Where there is war, drugs follow'

In a bid to stem the flow of fighters and weapons from Lebanon, Syria has replaced its border guards with army troops who are too busy fighting to patrol.

And routes back and forth across the border to Syria have increased as refugees and rebels chart new paths.

"Nowadays, anything goes because it's chaos on the Syrian side," says Abu Sami.

"Where there is war, drugs follow," he adds, contemplating a mound of sifted golden brown cannabis grains on the floor of a shed.

A few meters (yards) away, the leftover stems are burnt to remove any trace of the activity.

The farmers say local and foreign demand for their crop is up more than 50 percent in the last year, with "the majority of the merchandise being sold in Syria," which has become a crossroads for drugs destined for Europe and elsewhere.

According to Abu Ali, a local resident, traffickers from Syria buy 30 to 100 kilograms to take on to neighboring countries.

"From Turkey, they sell to European traffickers, and from Iraq and Jordan, they sell it to the Gulf countries," he says.

"Even though it's risky, 40 grammes that would sell for $20 in Lebanon will be sold for $100 in Syria and for $500 when it arrives in Turkey.

"There are also fighters in Syria that buy in small quantities for their own consumption," he adds.

The prices are high, but the abundance of the crop this year has pushed them down. A kilogram that used to fetch $1,000 now sells for $500.

No one wants to comment on the role of Hizbullah, which publicly opposes the drug trade but is accused by critics of turning a blind eye to the thriving industry in one of its strongholds.

The trade has also drawn in Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including Ibrahim, who left his beet field in the Kurdish area of Afrin in northern Aleppo province and produces hashish in Abu Sami's village.

"Because of the war, the number of Syrians working here has doubled," the 32-year-old says, his voice nearly drowned out by the sound of the sifting machine he operates for around 12 hours a day.

"It's very profitable," says Samer, another Syrian from Afrin, who says he makes $33 a day, instead of the $13 he was earning in a Beirut vegetable market.

Local residents fiercely defend their illicit activity.

"It supports entire families," says Afif, a father of three, who says his two hectares bring in tens of thousands of dollars a year.

The most skilled traffickers can reportedly haul in $1.5 million a year.

"Here there's not a plant that survives except hashish. It's a gift from God. Can we oppose God?" Afif asks with a laugh.

Comments 23
Thumb geha 26 November 2013, 07:37

hizbo cocaine ....

Thumb general_puppet 26 November 2013, 08:01

The Iranian militia is doing good business… they are probably using it as payment for their on-line Cheerleading Brigade since the rial went down the toilet. It would explain some of those bizarre and revisionist comments they are always making :-)

Thumb EagleDawn 26 November 2013, 08:10

They are using the revenues to get filthier and richer. Lowlifes

Default-user-icon r (Guest) 26 November 2013, 08:11

ya naharnet, grams not grammes. the 2nd one is the french version. i dunno y i keep correcting you when you have never showed me credit, and ur one of the crudest media outlets there is

Thumb Maxx 26 November 2013, 11:33

Wlik seriously, what would Naharnet do without you, you poor uncredited thing you. First of all, "gramme" is the legitimate British spelling of the American "gram"; just like it's "theatre" for "theater", or "honour" for "honor", and so forth. Second, it's "you're" and not "ur". Third, once you say "you're ONE OF the crudest media outlets..." (do you even understand what "crude" means?), you should say "that there are", not "there is". Fourth, you start sentences with capital letters, the noun "I" is always capitalized, and you end a sentence with a full-stop. So R (Guest), it's to Naharnet's credit that they never GIVE you credit (not "show you" credit; Jesus!), and you would do a much more worthy service to everybody if instead of "correcting" those who obviously are more familiar with, and more respectful of, the English language than you are, you just stay quiet. Cheers...

Thumb general_puppet 26 November 2013, 08:59

On Nasrallah's last pilgrimage to Iran, the Big Boss himself said the Hizbullah's agricultural arm had won a Glorious victory over the “Israeli takfiri terrorist”.

Default-user-icon Michel (Guest) 26 November 2013, 09:31

Are drugs allowed in shiaism? Im just asking because of how liberal shiites are when it comes to drugs, at least lebanese shiites. This is the case even in europe, lebanese shiites are very active in the drug business for some reason.

Missing toronto 26 November 2013, 10:17

Yeah this doesent surprise me the lebanese shia in beqaa are heavily involved in the production of hash, and import and refining of cocaine which comes from hezb iran operratives n south america via west africa via and from here it refined and reexported. also they manufacture captagon pills and there main export destinantion is gulf snni countries. obvioulsy the shia scholars have made this halal for there sheep followers because sunnis are enemies

Default-user-icon hanoun (Guest) 26 November 2013, 11:27

the only way to curb drug dealers and mafiosis from making money from drugs is to legalise it ,
hence everybody can grow it , prices go down , and drug lords and mafiosis will loose

Thumb Maxx 26 November 2013, 11:36

Very close. As close as Judas!

Thumb lebpatriot777 26 November 2013, 13:59

Listen to the envious and jealous above. Eat your hearts out cannibals and enjoy some cannabis while your at it. Shia are liberal in general and they don't eat humans like your kind. Darlings......hahahahaha

Default-user-icon Michel (Guest) 26 November 2013, 14:29

Is that a yes to my question? By the way, i didn't say shiites are liberal which obviously isen't the case for most. I said they are liberal when it comes to drugs - which isen't something that impresses anyone other than thugs of course.

Missing helicopter 26 November 2013, 22:04

It has nothing to do with them being liberal. It has to do with them being corrupt and they grow it as another source for cash (just like the imported rotten meat and out of date pharmaceuticals). Their leaders are corrupt to the bones and the few who are not are helpless. Not easy to stand up for armed thugs, ask the Shiite victim who tried to protest in front of the Iranian embassy.

Thumb FlameCatcher 26 November 2013, 14:11

Drugs is what Hezbollah uses to fund weapons and turn their sheep into zombies...

I'm sure Southern has interesting things to say about that ...

Thumb Mystic 26 November 2013, 23:14

Lebanese weed is some of the best in the world. Police should crack more often on the Terrorist residents of Arsal instead of messing with the Weed farms. Weed doesn't kill people atleast

Missing toronto 26 November 2013, 14:14

anybody that disagrees with you is automatically a cannibal, do you have a brain. nobody wants to eat your rotten meat,

Default-user-icon Alexander (Guest) 26 November 2013, 14:47

Legalise the production and trade of cannabis in Lebanon. The Moroccan government is currently looking into the economical benefits of legalising their presently illicit cannabis market, which is one of the world's biggest. Practically every European knows that Morocco or Lebanon is where the world's best hashish originates from. Those two nations would make an absolute fortune from having a legalised and regulated cannabis industry in their country. At this rate Morocco could very well be the first country to legalise cannabis in Africa. Who would have thought that an Arab country could possibly be the first to legalise cannabis in Africa? Certainly not me. But if it helps them to get out of their financial woes why not? All of the latest medical research into cannabis is showing how much potential there is for cannabis as a 21st century medicine even though it has been used as medicine in China and India for over 5000 years.

Default-user-icon Alexander (Guest) 26 November 2013, 17:07

With all due respect the1phoenix, please forgive me if I'm wrong in assuming this, but is cannabis use not already widespread in Lebanon? Those who want to use it will continue to use it regardless of whether it is illegal or legal. Is the Lebanese economy strong enough that it doesn't need to look into alternative sources of tax revenue to boost the GDP? What about the thousands of jobs that a legal and regulated cannabis industry will create?
As for cannabis use and car accidents I think that you will find that is not a major cause of road accidents. Alcohol is by far responsible for the most car accidents, actually up to 38% of accidents are alcohol related. Don't get me wrong I don't think that it is ever right that drivers should be allowed to be under the influence of any substance, but the cannabis-car accident argument holds no water according to the latest research.
I think that most of the world is heading towards legalisation of the cannabis plant so why not Lebanon too?

Thumb Mystic 27 November 2013, 03:57

Its legalized in Holland, and its works pretty well and is highly controlled overthere. I think we could do the same in Lebanon, we produce it ourselves and we wouldn't rely on other countries for import. Then we could export it around, Lebanon could attract alot of tourism that way, and also earn us alot of money for building.

Thumb FlameCatcher 26 November 2013, 17:36

Silence of the Ghanam ... it's crazy how they hide their heads in the ground whenever they cannot defend themselves...

Missing helicopter 26 November 2013, 22:05

All along the winding roads of the Shiite hamlet, men and women work on the crop behind half-closed curtains, and defend the industry as their only source of employment. ...............
What is there to defend. Outcry would have been best, but silence is seccond best (unlike lebpatriot who has no shame whatsoever)

Default-user-icon Sami (Guest) 26 November 2013, 20:56

In the end, legalization and regulation will be the only answer. But this will require a strong, independent government that does not succumb so easily to corruption.

Thumb Mystic 26 November 2013, 23:13

Phoenix, looks like you could use a joint yourself sometimes. End the pressure man, chill out and relaaax :D