A plan to legalise cannabis production in Lebanon faces resistance from some of the growers themselves.
- Farmers see legalisation as the government stealing their revenue
- Move to legalise follows consultant report into ailing Lebanese economy
- Research into medicinal value of Bekaa Valley cannabis could help legalisation
In the eastern Bekaa Valley, where the crop has been cultivated for centuries, the local farmers are suspicious of government efforts to create a legal cannabis industry.
“We view the legalisation of hashish as theft from our people,” says one grower, Abu Jafaar.
“As this crop generates a lot of revenues, so our politicians want to legalise it to steal that production.”
Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri has said the Lebanese government is preparing legislation that will allow the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes.
The move followed a report by consultants McKinsey into the ailing Lebanese economy, which has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world.
The McKinsey report recommended 150 ways to improve the economy, including industrial-scale construction of pre-fabricated homes for Syrian refugees and expanded international markets for avocados and cannabis.
Cannabis has been grown openly but illegally in the eastern Bekaa for generations. The government raids plantations irregularly but the area is under the control of Shia militias, including Hezbollah, which tolerate the cannabis plantations.
Abu Jafaar says he has around 30 arrest warrants out against him. He carries an AK-47 with him in case of government raids, and says he will not be handing over his cannabis harvest to the authorities.
“If the solution to avoid raids is to let them steal our money, well we won’t accept that. I work in danger every day for the money. What we want is that they let us grow it and not raid us anymore.”
Cannabis has been grown openly but illegally in Bekaa for generations. (ABC News: Aaron Hollett)
He feared his profits would be skimmed off by local officials.
His views were echoed by other growers who spoke to the ABC but did not want to be quoted.
Regardless of the view of these growers, research is being undertaken that may assist the legalisation process. Dr Mohamad Mroueh, a professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology at the Lebanese American University, is studying Bekaa cannabis.
“This is very new,” he said. “We’ve only been doing research for a couple of months. So far I’ve prepared the cannabis oil from a legal sample that we’ve received from the government and now we’re doing the pre-clinical testing against inflammation and against various types of cancer cells.”
He’s also making a chemical analysis of the cannabis oil to work out the unique properties of Bekaa cannabis.
“The climatic conditions in Lebanon, the growing conditions, the amount of rainfall, the sunlight, the temperature, the humidity, the type of soil — all make a difference in the chemical constituents of a plant.”
Whatever the reason, Bekaa Valley grower Abu Jafaar has no doubt about the quality of the local product.
“That’s the best hashish in the world,” he says, gesturing towards the field of chest-high plants.
“There is no such quality elsewhere in the world, except Afghanistan, where you have a similar quality. You smoke this hashish once and you will never forget it. And then you’ll want to smoke it every day.”