With the war in Syria stifling the economy and bringing in a flood of refugees in the Bekaa Valley, as well as the closure of smuggling roads and persistent state neglect, many of the farmers near Baalbek have turned to planting cannabis, a lucrative crop. But growing production and tighter border controls have also caused a glut of cannabis in Lebanon, driving down prices. Calls to legalize the drug are also gaining traction. (See also: Jumblatt renews calls to legalize marijuana)
Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb called for the legalization of cannabis farming in Lebanon to allow the state to benefit from the revenue of its export. “We are conducting studies on [how to] organize this type of agriculture so that it becomes monitored by the state, and thus the state can buy the harvest and export it to the countries that need it,” Chehayeb said. He added that the state should end its war on cannabis farmers and find workable alternatives.
Walid Jumblatt has renewed calls to legalize the cultivation and sale of marijuana. The head of the Progressive Socialist Party wrote that the time has come to sanction pot and end the state's prosecution of its sellers. "It is time to allow for the cultivation of marijuana, and to drop the right to issue arrest warrants against people who work in this field," the prominent Druze leader said.
For the second year in a row, cannabis farmers in the Bekaa Valley have been able to reap their harvests without being harassed or prosecuted by the security forces. But now farmers are facing a new problem: a flooded market and falling prices. The northern Bekaa Valley has been subjected to shelling and threats of attacks by the Syrian rebels, and as a result, the Army and other security forces have been forced to concentrate their efforts on neutralizing the security and military danger posed by the rebels in this area.
Farmers in the Bekaa Valley are not ashamed of growing marijuana. It is neither a disgrace nor a mistake, “We grow it to survive” they say candidly. While some may view cannabis as an illness, farmers consider it as a cure for their problem, the same problem spreading all over the Bekaa: poverty and deprivation. The decline of marijuana profits may cause an economic problem in the Bekaa, since many families depend on planting and selling hashish to survive.
The government's decision to begin destroying cannabis farms in the Bekaa Valley has angered impoverished farmers whose livelihoods rely heavily on drug production, with doubts arising as to whether the policy can continue to be implemented amid the unstable security and political situation in Lebanon. Cannabis farmers in the area have previously vowed to defend their crops with their lives.
The growth of cannabis is gradually increasing in the fields in the Bekaa valley. This is mainly due to policies adopted by successive governments that neglected the agricultural sector, while the state has demonstrated a limited capacity to eradicate cannabis crops in the past, and mainly in the last two years. This has encouraged farmers, bearing losses and facing agriculture problems amid a lack of state assistance, protection, support and compensation, to opt for growing marijuana.
According to Jalal Mahfouz, head of the Planning and Development Center in Hermel (Lebanon), any move to legalize the illegal industry, which is believed to be worth millions of dollars, would backfire by reducing prices and demand. He argued that hashish was currently expensive because it was illegal, and that if that changed the plant’s value would plummet. He also cast doubt on the idea that the government would be able to enforce any such law – even if supportive of the industry – given its near total absence from the remote area.
The relentless crackdown by security forces on the mainly cannabis-smoking youth in Beirut has had several negative repercussions on the Lebanese society. Young, impressionable teenagers in Beirut are increasingly getting drawn to what is called "synthetic cannabis" or otherwise known as "K2" or "spice." A mixture of herbs is usually laced with cannabinoids such as cannabicyclohexanol. The exact effects of this mixture are still not well understood, but early studies suggest a severe increase in chances of psychosis.
The minister of interior Charbel promised to find solutions for cannabis farmers, including finding alternative crops. Talk about alternative crops has been around since the Taif Accord, which ended the civil war in Lebanon more than two decades ago. “The government had allocated 35 billion Lebanese pounds annually to aid the farmers, as part of a five-year project for alternative crops to hashish. Unfortunately, none of this has been put into practice.” Charbel finds the continued talk about alternative crops irritating, saying that it seems this will remain forever a pipe dream and spoke about legalizing the cultivation of hashish.
This study brings together available evidence to provide a comprehensive analysis of cannabis production and markets across the EU. It combines information from EMCDDA routine reporting — data on patterns of prevalence and use, seizures, police reports, drug-law offences, cannabis potency and retail market prices — with literature on cannabis markets to create an in-depth analysis of the issue in a European context.