Cannabis Farming in Lebanon

by Yumna Al-Arashi

Welcome to Lebanon. Home to one of the most beautiful and historic landscapes on the Mediterranean coast. To the North and East, Syria, a country besieged by a brutal war and genocide, leaving a tiny Lebanon overflowing with over 2 million of its refugees. To the South, Occupied Palestine, a never-ending story, whose Nakba has flooded into Lebanon’s borders, driving sectarian division and ultimately leading to the decades-long civil war. Lebanon, home to its own conflicts, and corruption.

From its waterways, soil, and surrounding oceans, Lebanon has dug itself into an almost irreversible ecological position. Landfills are overflowing into the oceans and streams, waste is burnt all over the country, polluting the air, and clean water is becoming scarce. Waste management and the preservation of natural landscapes seemingly becomes less important when faced with extreme political dilemmas.

If one plant could perfectly symbolize all of the country’s political, physical, and cultural problems: it is cannabis. It is one of Lebanon’s largest agricultural export industries, harvested and processed to make hashish. Because of Cannabis’s illegality, it is quite literally run on Lebanon’s corruption. Driving through the Bekaa Valley, one cannot see an end to the Cannabis fields.

I began a journey into the world of Lebanon’s cannabis to understand how an illegal industry can thrive. Legalization of this crop can create jobs, release innocent people from prisons, improve economies, and heal the ill. Instead, the crop is kept illegal, and exported to European nations en masse.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch released a 64-page report titled “As If You’re Inhaling Your Death” of the country’s toxic waste burning, calling out Lebanon’s government for poisoning its citizens in much of the country. Not only has trash-burning been a problem, but the levels of E. coli and streptococcus on almost all ocean fronts are at levels unfit for safe swimming.

With only one road in and out of the valley, Yammouneh, a small village situated in Northern Lebanon is completely geographically separated from the rest of the Bekaa Valley. Upon your arrival, a large, man-made, emerald body of water glimmering in the harsh sun. My driver boasts about how they just built this water supply for themselves. As you drive further in, you realize that the entire valley is filled to the brim with cannabis. The houses are large, a sign of the wealth derived from the crop. Everyone here grows cannabis, and they’re all from the same family. This does not feel like the rest of Lebanon. It’s clean. But, the familiar sights of UNHCR logo scattered on refugee tents are still around.

After building the large, man-made reservoir, Yammouneh became somewhat immune to Lebanon’s water pollution, while simultaneously insuring their crop. They live in a bubble. But, just a few meters out of the valley, the trash settles, and not far, a war is raging. The industry still thrives on laborers from Palestine and Syria. Although Yammouneh separates itself geographically, it is not immune the region’s conflicts. It profits from it.

We left Yammouneh to Baalbek, one of the larger cities in the Bekaa. Like Yammouneh, it is a stronghold of Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamist political party and militant group. Their political propaganda is pasted on every corner of Baalbek - it is not easy to pass a poster with the leader of Hezbollah and Assad’s face celebrating their solidarity with one another.

In August and September, Lebanon’s crop will grow another meter high and begin to dry and Syrians and Palestinians from all over the Bekaa will come and prepare its harvest. It will be funneled into buildings where the hashish will be processed, packed, and ready for trafficking. The best and cleanest hashish, from Yammouneh, will be exported to Europe. The rest finds its way to Africa and the rest of the Middle East. Lebanon’s population gets the lowest grades for its own personal use.

A cannabis worker sitting in a field of purple leaves, head wrapped in a red and white keffiyeh, having a relaxing smoke break