Marijuana in Lebanon: A Recap

Perhaps one of the issues I have tackled most passionately on this blog over the past 6 years is the issue of marijuana in Lebanon. It’s also the one that has caused me the most headaches. In this post, I will briefly recap everything to refresh everyone’s minds about the issue, especially with the renewed excitement about possible legalization of the plant we are well-known for by potheads around the world.

Personal Freedom Issue

Perhaps the number one reason why I am a staunch advocate for marijuana is my deep-rooted belief in individual rights and personal freedoms. It is nobody’s business what you eat, drink, smoke, read, write, think or do, so long as you’re not actually infringing on anyone else’s freedoms or rights (offending someone or their beliefs isn’t considered “infringing” on anyone’s rights). The government, conservative NGOs, the police, the church and the mosque have absolutely no business telling you what you can and cannot do on your own time in your own home.

In a country where you can have a drive-thru vodka-orange cocktail, or get stabbed in the face in broad daylight, or die from cancer after 7-months of inhaling toxic burning garbage, or a bomb, or a politician’s convoy running you over, or a run-amok truck pulverising your car, or, or, or… I really don’t see how it’s that big of a problem if someone smokes a joint.

In short: it’s no one’s business, regardless of your personal thoughts or opinions on the matter.

Corruption and Distrust

It’s no secret marijuana is big business in Lebanon. It’s always been, since ancient Roman times. However, it’s the wrong kind of big business, and can be summed up into to main illicit industries:

  • Drug cartels: essentially, they are drug traffickers armed to the teeth and protected by Lebanese politicians. They are beloved by impoverished local communities neglected by the government and seen as “robin-hood” vigilantes, giving hungry farmers a lucrative and easy-to-grow crop, while protecting them from security forces. But, they’re cartels, criminals, and no matter how you spin it, it’s not right that only armed thugs have the exclusive right to grow, distribute and sell marijuana. They make millions (5–6% of the worldwide hashish production is in Lebanon)
  • Corrupt police: the only other group in Lebanon that rivals cartels in making money off marijuana, is the police. Heavy-handed, often illegal and unorthodox methods to entrap citizens, torture them and extort them for bribes is huge business for someone on a cop’s salary and with a cop’s unlimited and unsupervised powers. If a young man or woman gets busted, chances are a few thousand dollars are gonna find their way into the arresting police officers’ pockets in return for letting the young man or woman go, desperate under incarceration under inhumane conditions and often under torture, both physical and mental, in well-documented and endemic stark violations of human rights.

Apart from the fact the police often break the law to entrap taxpayers, or arrest them without a shred of evidence, this has created a massive rift between the communities these police officers are supposed to serve and protect. I for one would think once, twice, even thrice before ever seeking help from the police my taxes pay for, because so far, in my 25 years here, all I’ve gotten from them is grief, harassment and unprofessionalism. So much so, that we often see citizens take matters into their own hands, knowing that the police will not act, at least not in support of the law, unless it is lucrative to them in some way, regardless of who is the victim and who is the abuser.

Often times, sadly, crooked cops go hand-in-hand with crooked lawyers, who fail to uphold the rights of their clients because they’ll get a cut of the bribes and extortion money the accused’s family pay the cops (given that a first-time offense of smoking marijuana doesn’t allow the cops to arrest someone for it). So, a corrupt security apparatus coupled with some greedy lawyers, as well as the automatic response of most Lebanese folks of bribing their way out of trouble instead of facing it with justice, leads to a very lucrative cycle of corruption that has cost and is costing countless taxpayers their liberty, health and lives for a victimless crime in a country where an armed cartel head can do prime-time TV show appearances on daily basis, but a university graduate with marijuana leaves on his hoodie will land him a couple of nights in jail and stigma that is almost impossible to shake off.

Making the Drug Problem Even Worse

In a country where 1,000,000 anti-depressant and 700,000 anti-anxiety perscriptions were written by doctors in 2011, it’s not hard to imagine how big the drug abuse actually is in Lebanon. Those are the legit numbers, imagine the illegit, real number and worse drugs. However, despite the horrible effects drugs like captagon for example have both on the users’ health and the safety and well-being of those around them, those drugs dissipate from their systems in a day or two. marijuana needs weeks to disappear from your urine.

So smoking a joint a month ago, will get you in a whole lot of trouble today, but popping pills made in shoddy labs in war-torn Syria over the weekend, will leave you clean as a whistle. This pressure to keep urine clear of THC (from marijuana) has pushed misinformed folks into choosing the much harder to trace, but highly addictive and destructive drugs such as captagon, prescription drugs or other mysterious substances laced with unknown drugs that don’t show up on the questionably efficient urine tests the cops force you to take and pay for even without proof you actually took or smoked anything.

So, in reality, the war on marijuana has only made the drug epidemic worse, much, much worse. After all, fear of being arrested, beaten and extorted outweighs the fear of addiction or self-harm for many folks who opt to self-medicate in a country as depressing and turbulent as Lebanon.

Legislative Coma and Political Hypocrisy

When confronted with the barbaric way the police handle drug use, they always smugly say, “don’t like it, change the law!”. Now, overlooking the fact they choose not to enforce a million other laws (like protecting women against domestic violence), they do have a point in a warped way. They also know that with an illegitimate parliament full of octogenarian warlords with more temper tantrums per week than a toddler, it’s very unlikely the law will change anytime soon via the proper legislative channels. This means the cash-flow from extortion is safe, and the crooked police are happy.

Another issue that grinds my gears is political parties being hypocrites about marijuana. Hezbollah is the most troubling one, given an overwhelming majority of the growing and production happens in one of their main strongholds: the Northern Bekaa. Yet, on countless occasions, its secretary general Hassan Nasrallah blasts it like a republican southern conservative would. This is a problem, because while the communities loyal to Hezbollah benefit, even need the revenue from marijuana, in public, the party pretend to be completely against it instead of seeking to regulate it a bit more, for the safety of the users and to keep the drug cartels on a tight leash. Also, that absurdly inaccurate and ill-timed campaign by the Lebanese Forces didn’t help at all. I still don’t know what Geagea was thinking when he did that insanely awkward video. Then again, that’s the same guy that cuts cake, drinks champagne and laughs when confronted about the massacres he was responsible for along with former-mortal-enemy-now-best-friend Michel Aoun.

Every major landowner (and thus politician) in Lebanon is connected to the marijuana industry in one way or another, and while some politicians like Walid Junblat publicly support legalization, his tweets contradict the reality, given the branch that deals with drugs, the Judicial Police, is seen as loyal to the Druze leader, and yet, we see no effort to try and curb the extreme lengths they go to to entrap people who smoke up. But, recent developments by his ministers do look promising, and I hope the influential leader of the PSP finally does deliver on his promises to stop this brutal crackdown hurting Lebanese taxpayers unlike any other oppressive actions the Lebanese government and institutions dish out on innocent taxpayers every day.

Decriminalization First, Legalization Second

I know a lot of you get excited about exporting our hash to places like Amsterdam and Barcelona, but that isn’t the main concern here. Marijuana export is a tricky legal subject, and shouldn’t be the basket we put all our eggs in. The main issue here is curbing the corruption and detrimental effects the brutal crackdown is having on our communities, especially among younger, vulnerable taxpayers. The problem isn’t how we can export and make money off hash, it’s that no one should go to jail and be beaten and tortured in places like Hbeish and Roumieh for smoking a joint.

This doesn’t need a parliamentary majority, it needs the related ministries to issue executive orders to their subordinates to quit bullying innocent taxpayers. Which means it’s easily doable, especially given the readiness the PSP and its ministers have expressed in making this come true. So, I hope this post and the dialog happening in the country and online about legalization will encourage those with the power to do something about it, to do it. We’re not in a hurry to export our weed, just in dire need to stop losing good members of the community to the fear and terror extolled upon them for a quick buck by the security forces (or as an excuse to stifle dissent like we saw during the You Stink protests last year, when the bullying was at its most obvious: drug testing taxpayers and minors for protesting, and making them pay for the goddamn urine test themselves. Inno, how rude can the police blatantly get? Gaddafi style stuff…)

In Short

It’s 2016. Most of the developed world is ok with it and it’s time to stop incarcerating and terrorizing taxpayers for smoking marijuana and inadvertently pushing some of them towards harder drugs in the process. No one should go to jail or get arrested for smoking a joint anymore. That said, if you do smoke up, do be careful, whenever talk about legalization starts, the police become extra excited about entrapping people to try and make as much money by extorting taxpayers before the inevitable decriminalization takes effect.

I won’t talk about the benefits of weed here, you can Google them yourselves. I’m just talking about the marijuana issue in Lebanon in this post, which is already long enough!

To sum up, I’m gonna quote Sean Paul: “Legalize it. Time to recognize it.”

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