Is it time to bring your bong to Baalbek?

While in the past the Lebanese government has made efforts to destroy some of the country’s illegal cannabis fields, this has yet to happen this year as the security services as preoccupied with more pressing threats.

al-monitor A farmer inspects his crops of cannabis in a field in the Bekaa Valley, in eastern Lebanon, Sept. 25, 2007.  Photo by REUTERS/Tom Perry.

Topics covered

marijuana, lebanese forces, lebanese domestic politics, hashish, drugs, drug trade, baalbek, agriculture

Sep 1, 2015

MP Walid Jumblatt tweeted last year, “It is time to legalize growing cannabis in Lebanon.” His tweet did not pass unnoticed, especially with all the controversy it raised, while it received broad acclaim from hundreds of cannabis backers in Baalbek, in particular those wanted by the judiciary. They support his stance from a strictly economic point of view, as most of them only plant cannabis — used to make marijuana and hashish — without using it. Instead, they promote it or use it for trade.

Dozens of thousands of dunams (there are 4 dunams in an acre) in the towns west of Baalbek are covered with cannabis waiting for the “Feast of the Cross” on Sept. 14 for the quiet harvest season to begin, away from all security crackdowns after the process of destroying cannabis plants in the region turned it into a battlefield in past years. In addition to using weapons and blocking roads, certain farmers even threatened the anti-drug office because they see this as a legitimate confrontation to defend their livelihood.

The date of harvest is near and there are no updates on the cannabis file. Destroying last year's and this year's cannabis plants has not been a priority for the government. Could the government have essentially legalized growing cannabis, even if it did not do it publicly?

Growing cannabis has become a fait accompli in Baalbek and Hermel. There is no doubt that its development goes hand in hand with the deteriorating economic situation in the region, not to mention the misery, deprivation and poverty from which a large number of the population suffer today. The government tried to eliminate cannabis from the region, but the economic and social situation overrode that, especially as the government failed to provide alternatives.

The issue of growing cannabis and destroying it in the region keeps repeating itself; farmers are well aware that they are violating the law by growing it, but a lack of time and the large quantities of cannabis blocks the security services from being able to destroy it.

The fact that security services suspended the process of destroying the fields during the past two years due to security conditions was the main motivation for farmers to increase acreage. One does not need to do much work to search for cannabis fields. All one needs to do is walk on roads that link the western villages of Baalbek to each other to find hundreds of thousands of dunams of cultivated cannabis on the sides of the roads. One could say “It is the year of hashish.”

A security source told An-Nahar that the internal security forces’ lack of personnel and the army’s preoccupation in fighting terrorism as well as the absence of a political decision canceled the destroying process, especially as farmers expressed their readiness to confront the services in charge of destroying their cannabis fields.

One cannabis farmer in the region noted that the government and concerned parties ask farmers in Bekaa to abide by the law without giving them anything in return. The revenues they get from growing cannabis are too high compared with the profit they could make from growing other plants.

Despite all the anticipation, farmers believe that the season is quite rich this year but it will not earn as much as in previous years; farmers made profits estimated at $175 million to $200 million last year. The profit made from processed cannabis is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 per dunam, and the cost of growing one dunam ranges between $100 to $150.

Almost every year security forces destroy thousands of dunams of cannabis fields and that always backfires. For farmers, this further raises the price of the goods and few traders also benefit from it. However, the price of 1,200 grams of hashish has decreased as it has become extremely abundant compared with past years.

A security source told An-Nahar that the cultivated areas reached 300,000 dunams this year, which is three times the space cultivated two years ago.

Cannabis is not part of Lebanon’s culture. The law bans it, but it does exist in the country and everyone knows where it can be found since the government is not taking care of the region’s people by providing infrastructure and needed services to improve both life and agricultural conditions.

The issue of growing cannabis in Lebanon can only be resolved gradually and in conjunction with the work of organizations dealing with the development of local agriculture, including production, marketing, market regulation, irrigation and loans.

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