Donald Trump has been Tweeting and talking a lot about the fight against ISIS terrorists over the past few months, and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, commented on cannabis at the end of February. They are probably not aware of the fact that both subjects have more to do with each other than it seems at first sight. The Italian terrorist prosecutor, Franco Roberti, told the press that the legalization of cannabis could deprive ISIS Terror and the Mafia of their lucrative financial bases.
Unlike in Western Europe and on the American continent, many regions in the Middle East can look back on millenniums of recreational cannabis culture. When Richard Nixon staged his War on Drugs in the mid-1970s, many countries such as Turkey and Pakistan, where cannabis cultivation and consumption had been widespread until that point, pushed for draconian laws like the death penalty for the once widespread and very popular medicine. In short, the worldwide enforcement of the UN Single Convention during the 1960s and 1970s has resulted in a drug-political chaos where hashish, hemp and cannabis had been used recreationally and medically since biblical times. Despite the extreme prohibition, more than 90% of the world’s hashish originates in Morocco, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Pakistan. In addition, cannabis is playing a decisive role since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and the Turkish-Kurdish conflict.
Death Toll in the Name of Prohibition
Morocco is the world’s largest hashish producer. At least since the Al-Qaeda attack on a passenger train in Madrid in 2004, it has been known that terrorist activities are being financed by funds from the Moroccan hashish trade. The Belgian terrorist cells, responsible for the 2016 attacks in Brussels and Nice, are said to have financed at least part of their activities through the sale of Moroccan hashish. Since the civil war in Libya, the desert state has been added as a transit country for Hashish from North Africa and cocaine from South America.
“Certainly [ISIS] controls the Libya route; it controls the coast along the Gulf of Sirte. Decriminalization or even legalization would definitely be a weapon against traffickers, among whom there could be terrorists who make money off of it.” the International Business Times cited Franco Roberti, chief prosecutor of the Italian anti-mafia and terrorist agency (DNA), last year.
Cannabis in the Syrian Civil War
In Northern Syria, more and more cannabis is cultivated in the Kurdish region. The Turkish government claims that cannabis cultivation and trade is the main source of income for the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). In the context of Turkish military operations against the PKK, the Turkish army is increasingly confiscating Kurdish flowers and PKK’s cannabis fields. On the other hand, PKK fighters are highly esteemed by the US and its allies as front fighters against ISIS. The same holds true in Kobane, where the Kurds successfully expelled the IS from the region. In those parts of the North where Assad can no longer carry through his draconian penalties against cannabis cultivation, possession and trade, the plant is becoming an economic factor in a regional war The Kurdish-controlled border town Idlib is not far from Kobane and is considered the cannabis-high-castle of the region.
In contradiction to their business practices, the IS punishes cigarettes in its controlled regions and of course does not accept cannabis use or cultivation among the population. There are some reports of cannabis farmers who were threatened by militant religious groups and whose fields were burnt down because of the forbidden plants. On the other hand, the various terrorist organizations, whose fighters are more likely to speed up with captagon than to rely on the soothing effects of cannabis, also claim a stake in the hashish trade in Lebanon and Libya.
Right Next Door: “Red Lebanese” Hash from Baalbek
The Bekaa Plain, the largest and oldest cannabis cultivation area in the Eastern Mediterranean, borders the contested areas of Northern Syria. Here, the farmers benefited from the withdrawal of the Syrian army in 2005, and the crop yields have increased year-after-year ever since. Due to the fact that the entire region is under the of influence of rivaling local militias and militant groups, the scope of the business is immeasurable. Since the first Lebanon conflict in the early 1980s Israel is aware of the fact that blood is often stuck in the Lebanese hash that makes its way into the country.
Smoke Your Own — Stop Terrorism!
Israeli growers have long called for the boycott of “Red Lebanese” hashish. They appeal to their citizens to consume domestically cultivated cannabis as a way weaken Hezbollah. Their efforts appear to be successful success; a few years ago, 70% of the cannabis products available in Israel originated from Lebanon, today, the ratio has flipped. The law enforcement agencies are more tolerant of illegal flowers from Tel Aviv than Lebanese hash; the greatest potential threat originates from the high profits that disappear in the dark channels of a war’s economy.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan — home of all Indica landraces — cultivating cannabis or sleepy poppies is often the only way to sustain life for the poorest members of the population. The region is the second largest hashish exporter in the world. In addition, cannabis in the Hindukush has always been a medicine, recreational drug, and field crop at the same time. Hashish is part of the local culture, cannabis pioneers like Wernard Bruining and Ben Dronkers have learned their breeding skills from this region and spread them worldwide. Without the ban, one would have been able to build up a prosperous cannabis tourism in the former Hippie paradise just like Amsterdam or Nimbin.
Today, local warlords control the production, ensuring that all sides of the bloody conflict profit from the illegal business. During the Taliban regime, cultivation had declined rapidly, but since the holy warriors’ expulsion in 2001, the figures have been increasing annually Afghanistan also has a steadily growing heroin and opiate problem among its population, which has never had any major problems before the introduction of Western concepts for the use of substances. There is no panacea. The legalization of cannabis is not the adequate means to get the Middle East conflict off the table with one blow. As history has shown, there is no quick way to pacify the region, but when it comes to a military solution, the situation is far too complex. However, if an evil is deprived of its financial foundation, it is hit at the very heart.
In Morocco, there are already small efforts to replace the ban on cannabis that was imposed by former colonial powers. Since the last elections, a drug policy that meets the historical role of the plant and the needs of the people is a fair topic of discussion. In 2016 two parties have presented a cannabis-legalization draft to both the upper and lower houses of parliament. In the country with the largest cultivation area of the world, such a thing was still unthinkable only a few years ago. In the other cannabis cultivation areas of the region, one can not even talk or write about the topic of legalization until very recently. If the West were deliberately concerned with this issue and brought it on the agenda of the endless peace negotiations, it might get closer to one of many the root causes of the problem than current plans which call for more bombs, ground forces and unstable alliances.