Lebanese Government Gives “Blessed” Hashish a Break

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Did the Romans consume hashish? Well, this question may require a deep historical investigation, but it seems to greatly intrigue Interior Minister Marwan Charbel. (Photo: Hanibaael Naim)

By: Mohamed Nazzal

Published Saturday, September 14, 2013

The never-ending story of Lebanon’s law enforcement agencies and its hashish crops is old news. This year, it seems the government has been reluctant about destroying hashish crops, perhaps because it is ashamed of lying to the farmers for so long. Indeed, lying is perhaps a bigger sin than growing al-Mabroukeh, the “blessed plant,” as the farmers call it.

Among the inscriptions of Baalbeck’s ruins, specifically in the Roman-era temple of Bacchus, one might spot an ancient inscription of the cannabis plant known as hashish – side by side with inscriptions depicting wheat. At least, this is what some claim.

Did the Romans consume hashish? Well, this question may require a deep historical investigation, but it seems to greatly intrigue Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.

Nearly a year ago, Charbel succeeded in containing the anger of hashish farmers in the Bekaa, specifically in the village of Yammouneh, after bloody clashes erupted with the army and security forces. The farmers in question are not drug dealers. They are poor, and the revenues from their crops are barely enough to support their families, unlike the hashish dealers who amass huge fortunes.

The farmers are the weakest link in the hashish chain. Some of them have never even consumed hashish. Yet they are used to the security forces each year assaulting their fields. All their toil is then destroyed before their very eyes, and rarely does this annual ritual ever pass without incident.

This year, in September, there may not be any clashes. Officially, the Interior Ministry and the security forces are undecided, but all signs so far indicate that there will be a full crop this year, undisturbed by the government’s yearly destruction of hashish plants.

There are many reasons for this. First, according to a government official, “The last thing the current security situation needs is more clashes.” Implicit in this view is that the “threat” of hashish is not worthy of government attention compared to other threats.

This year, the minister of interior might feel ashamed vis-à-vis the farmers, whom he promised last year to find solutions for their issues, including working on finding alternative crops. But in truth, talk about alternative crops has been around since the Taif Accord, which ended the civil war in Lebanon more than two decades ago.

Charbel could not fulfill his promise, except partially, because “the Ministry of Finance refused to give the farmers the allocations agreed to in the cabinet, claiming that there were insufficient funds,” as Charbel said, adding that “the government will once again appear like a liar.” No one can envy Charbel for the position he is in.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, the interior minister said, “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.” The plan included finding other types of crops that could be grown in the Bekaa, building irrigation systems, and providing assistance for cattle grazing.

Charbel went further, saying that he finds continued talk about alternative crops irritating, saying that it seems this will remain forever a pipe dream. He then spoke about legalizing the cultivation of hashish.

“There are many countries in the world where narcotic plants are grown, specifically hashish, such as Turkey and Morocco. These countries have managed this process superbly, and people there grow these crops under the supervision of the authorities. The authorities then buy the crops from them each year,” he said.

Charbel raised this issue in a past cabinet session. Bear in mind that for years now, there have been plans in place in this regard, but they have all been ignored. Charbel’s proposal has met the same fate.

Every ministry blames every other ministry for the problem. So, where is the problem, and what is stopping these plans from being implemented? You will not receive any convincing answer from Lebanese officials.

Nevertheless, some have very specific answers. In their view, the issue has to do with an entire structure engaged in the trafficking of hashish. This structure, which wields tremendous influence on the government, reaps huge annual profits.

The proponents of this view like to draw attention to what they call a paradox: How can one explain the considerable increase of hashish in the market during the years when the hashish crops were destroyed? This, they say, clearly indicates that there are some entities controlling the market through local production.

Indeed, why all this enthusiasm against hashish every year? What is the damage caused by this plant to begin with? The authorities seem to deal with cannabis as though it is more dangerous than cocaine or heroin.

In reality, the issue is all about class: Cocaine is for rich people, while everyone can afford hashish. It is easy for the security forces to flex their muscle against the poor and appear as serious enforcers of the law.

Some government officials agree with this view, and even go further, saying that the cultivation of tobacco was also once illegal until the government imposed regulations and started buying crops from the farmers. They ask, why is the cultivation of hashish not regulated in the same manner?

The answer could prompt an observer to believe that there is indeed a “mafia” inside the government deliberately pushing to maintain the status quo. The gang in question continues to benefit from the lack of laws regulating hashish and from illegal trafficking, which generates huge profits. The stronger the prohibition, the higher the prices.

Follow Mohamed Nazzal on Twitter.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

I believe legalizing cannabis is just what Lebanon needs for several reasons.
First of all Lebanon is a country with many debts, and legalizing marijuana would help pay these debts. Lebanese Hash is known to be one of the best on earth. Exporting it to countries where cannabis is already legal such as Holland and several states in America, would make a fortune. It will also definitely massively increase tourism in Lebanon.
Second of all, Many innocent people have been thrown in prison because of this. In Lebanon they call a pot smoker "hashash" which is slang Arabic for some one who consumes cannabis, and to them a pot smoker is as good as a Heroin addict. Most Lebanese people are also strictly convinced that anyone who smokes pot shall end up doing other drugs, Which is not proven in anyway. Legalizing cannabis would mean setting everyone who suffered in jail because of consuming it free.
What people in Lebanon should know is that Legalizing marijuana won't have any negative effects. Already it is very easy to buy hashish anywhere in Lebanon, So since the government doesn't mind drunk people beating each other up on weekends why should they mind peaceful stoners. If there is one thing i know the is the only thing the Lebanese government is good at is arresting pot heads because its easy considering the huge amount of stoners everywhere, and its easy money considering the police men in Lebanon are easily bribed which means they ask for money from the prisoners family to bail him/her out, this strategy has been working for years for the Lebanese police men.
I have smoked hashish for several years and been arrested for 6 months just for consuming it. Now i can't continue college even though my grades were good. Legalizing it means i could go back to college and my sentence in jail will be erased from my criminal record. I used to drink a lot of alcohol but once i started smoking hash i stopped drinking easily and i was never violent again in my life. Prison in Lebanon is one of the worse things you can imagine because both the police and the prisoners are bad guys. Both the police men and the cell mates will beat you up like never before if you wont feed their wallet. I have also never even touched any other drug besides marijuana, the thought never even occurred to try something else. I for one think drugs such as pills, cocaine, and Heroin ruin peoples lives.
In any case writing this helped me express my depression and my opinion. Like i said i think this is just what Lebanon needs.

Some interesting thoughts Mohamed , the system is not working . Society is meant to progress as it grows wiser , a lot of energy being wasted for no betterment , I think the priority of every government around the world is to look after their citizens , eliminate homelessness , raise the standard of living for everyone , the politicians are entrusted with our care , otherwise what the hell are they doing , listening to their advisors , who in turn are listening to big business lobbyists who are only after their interests , all this bullshit is not working . Humanity needs a different way ,but different or the unknown strikes fear in descion makers , who will be the first leader to make that jump it will be like the moon landing , a new frontier , one small leap for man , one giant leap for mankind , I enjoyed reading your article , well done .

Legalized it ! Hashish is Good Medecine, Medical Hashish is the best!
In Seed We Trust!

In seed we trust !!!

OPINION PIECE:
HOW WE DEAL WITH PROBLEMATIC DRUG USE IS THE PROBLEM
By Raffi Balian

I want to congratulate Mohamed Nazal for a great piece of journalism (Lebanese Government Gives “Blessed” Hashish a Break – Al Akhbar, September 15, 2013). It's quite refreshing to find a reporter who has done his homework and is not afraid to report controversial issues insightfully. Drugs have been a taboo for such a long time, most journalists, politicians and health workers are afraid to communicate through a common sense viewpoint.

I live in Canada and I don’t know many people who don’t smoke pot or hash. Even politicians are starting to admit that they’ve more than “inhaled” these drugs. It’s well known among prisoners and prison guards that in Canadian prisons and penitentiaries, the administration tacitly approves cannabis because it has a calming affect on the population. In contrast, penal workers enforce their discretionary powers ruthlessly when alcohol is brewed in prison. There is a good reason for this: Many prisoners become violent and unruly when they binge on alcohol. This is NOT an argument to make alcohol illegal. These same prisoners would probably drink alcohol without any problems when they’re not imprisoned because they don’t have to binge. Anytime a drug is prohibited, its use becomes problematic. A great example is the prohibition of cigarettes in Canadian prisons. Right now all the ills associated with cocaine, heroine and speed – exorbitant prices, trafficking, corruption, and violence – take place in relation to tobacco in Canadian prisons.

When I’m engaged in public speaking or I’m training my staff, I always recite the following story:

Every summer my family moved to the Metn mountains to escape the scorching heat of Beirut. Often, my cousin Silva and her family joined us from Baghdad for a month or so. Silva and I were barely sixteen when we started smoking cigarettes.
Somehow my father got wind of my smoking and told me, “I don’t want you to start smoking; however, if you’re going to smoke, please smoke in front of me. I don’t you to hide anything from me”. Unfortunately for my cousin Liz, whose father was raised in a much more patriarchal society than may dad, he was quite adamant that women shouldn’t be smoking. Silva had to confine her smoking in washrooms.

I smoked whenever I felt the need to smoke, while Silva smoked whenever she could. That is, she usually went to the washroom, and because she couldn’t go to the washroom all the time, she binged. My memory of Silva as a sixteen-years-old young woman is a pale person coming out from a washroom.

My point is, whenever we make choices more repressive, we rob folks of their space to negotiate a healthier way of being. There are many examples of this in society. All we have to do is look at alcohol and tobacco, the worst possible drugs. Because we’re able to buy these drugs legally, we have removed the stigma of consuming them – and when people can talk as freely about their drug use as they can talk about their food consumption, they can communicate with each other about ways of using them in relative safety. For example, we try not to drink in the morning, or without food. We add soda and water to strong alcohol beverages. We try not to smoke before breakfast, or smoke with coffee or with friends. Because we have the space, we have found ways to use these drugs as safely as possible. If alcohol and tobacco become illegal, they will cause even more social ills than heroin, cocaine and all the other illegal drugs combined.

Those who champion prohibition usually make the following argument: “Look,” they say, “there are many people who have problems with alcohol and cigarettes. Why add pot, hashish, cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin? Legalizing these drugs will just create more problems!”

No, legalizing all drugs will not increase the existing problems; in fact, it may decrease them.

Problematic drug use is a symptom, not a cause of malaise in the soul. So are overeating, gambling, driving fast, or bungee jumping; yet, we don’t talk of prohibiting certain foods, or driving cars. The more complex a society becomes, the more difficult it will become for people to cope. We were not built to spend hours and hours in regimented classes, or regimented work. You put any animal in a crowded cage and you’ll see all kinds of problematic behaviours. Pigs bite each others tails, and hens beak each other. Animals throw themselves on the walls of their bars if they don’t have the freedom to move. These behaviours will not stop by making them illegal. We have to deal with the root problems, not the symptoms.

Making alcohol, tobacco, or any drug illegal is not going to stop a problematic behaviour – it just will create other coping mechanisms, which usually is worse. I know many heroin users who have been pushed to stop using heroin only to start binging on cigarettes. Who is to say these folks are better off binging on cigarettes? Ideally they wouldn’t problematically use anything. But we don’t live in an ideal society, do we? Not even in Canada or other western countries. What’s worse, prohibition creates ills that are far worse than the use of heroin, cocaine or amphetamines and methamphetamines. For example, prohibition has created drug cartels that resort to unspeakable violence to maintain their monopoly. Prohibition also increases the price of drugs, forcing it’s users to make themselves vulnerable. There are usually three ways people who use drugs problematically can survive in a prohibitionist society: 1) trafficking of illegal drugs, 2) selling their body, and 3) theft and robberies. These come with their own set of problems, including violence, imprisonment and death – not to speak of stigmatization and the problems that come with it. The social cost of prohibition is immense.

If we legalize drugs, we’re not going to see more problematic drug use. What will happen is that the same folks who have problems coping may switch their drug of choice. True, during the first stages of legalization there may be a period of adjusting. But as more and more people experiment with the new legal drugs, more and more people will find ways of using them safely. We have examples of these too. When heroin is prescribed legally, those who are fortunate enough to acquire them from pharmacies start to stabilize their lives. They no longer have to waste their creative energy on securing drugs: finding exorbitant amounts of money by stealing, selling one’s body, or trafficking. More importantly, they talk more freely about their drug use because it’s no longer stigmatized.

Instead of punishing people for having to cope with the society we’ve created, we should be working to build a better society. Accessible schools, free access to health care, housing, absence of corruption and repression – those are the recipe for healing. More repression will mean more problems.

About me:

I’ve been an injection opiate user since 1993 and have been on Opiate Substitution Therapy (OST) since 1998. Currently I am being tapered of opiates through Suboxone.

I started using drugs when I was working as a Needle Exchange Coordinator. At the time, needle exchange was a new field in Canada and the dangers of workers becoming users themselves wasn’t quite known. I started to set up the first boundary maintenance workshops for needle exchange workers in the province of Ontario in 1995.

Currently I coordinate one of the busiest and most successful needle exchange/harm reduction program in Toronto – a program that has won several awards.

There is not just a government mafia, there's a global mafia that works to suppress pot - the Beer and Bourbon establishment. They know they stand to lose a lot of bucks if this much less dangerous substance is not illegal.

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