I was published in High Times late last year, it’s not online so here is the unedited article for your consumption.
Cannabis farming in the Baalbeck region of Lebanon is an ancient practice that goes back to beginning of recorded history. The plant is indigenous to the region and grows without care or watering.
The farmers do not usually process the plants themselves instead choosing to sell their crop to drug lords in exchange for a relatively small return. They earn not much more per hectare than the revenues they could get from other crops and resort to Cannabis because they do not have the seed capital necessary to start up orchards or grow tomatoes or other crops ventures. For Cannabis they do not need to buy seeds, invest in irrigation or pay for fertilizers. Drug lords then process the leaves into paste or oil and these are gangs usually affiliated with the contraband networks and the more extravagant gun battles and kidnappings associated with the drug trade in the region.
At the lower end of the industry you have farmers cultivating and selling the crop earning a subsistence income. However these farmers are fiercely protective of their fields and are often willing to use force to protect them from state intervention.
In 2012 armed farmers fought off state employed bulldozers sent to destroy the illegal plantations. A ceasefire was only called after government ministers promised financial compensation for the farmers which never arrived.
As a result of the Lebanese government’s inability to provide compensation to the farmers there is a temporary block on the destruction of Cannabis farms.
Once the crop has been harvested and sold it is processed by locals who then sell it to traders or to the local market and this part of the trade is controlled by a number of tribal families. Then you have the drug lords who ensure contact with international networks and export the drug. They are also generally members of local tribal families, however their power is derived from their alliance with the de facto forces controlling the political scene at a specific period.
According to sources close to the trade the smuggling routes used for all of this traffic are controlled by Hezbollah. With the tightening of the sanctions on Iran, money flowing to Iranian-backed party was reduced and as a result drug-smuggling has become a much needed fund-raising activity.
Some of the recent political developments in Lebanon are heavily linked to the local drug trade. According to local sources the recent bout of clashes between Hezbollah and Lebanese security forces headed by Ashraf Rifi were triggered by losses of revenue from government clamp downs on the trade. The recent spate of high-profile gun battles and kidnappings in Arsal also stem from families with deep ties to the local drug trade.
Most traditional smuggling routes go through the Arsal Jur which is a border mountain area that slopes down into Syrian territory. Arsal Sunni families work together with Shi’ite tribal families along the smuggling routes and according to sources many of the recent flare ups have been caused by deals that have gone bad due to the worsening situation in Syria.
On the ground things are also getting worse for the casual smoker, prices have increased on average by 50% a year over the last 3 years, meaning that 100 grams now will set you back around $500 with prices set to continue rising. “They have arrested 160 smokers and dealers in the last few weeks” said a local Beiruti resident. “We can’t get smoke anywhere now, it is becoming really hard to find, very expensive to buy and dangerous for us to locate.”
Pretty glad I published this and hope to do more for High Times, also links awesomely well with my VICE documentary: