A village in Lebanon, where cannabis grows everywhere, has long counted on hashish for income. But the country’s economic crisis has farmers reconsidering the crop. The Lebanese pound has lost 80 percent of its value against the United States dollar since last fall, and farmers have taken the hit. The costs of imported fuel and fertilizer needed to grow the crop have soared, while the Lebanese pounds that growers earn by selling their hash are worthless and less.
Lebanon’s financial crisis has also undermined the drug’s domestic market, and the war in Syria has snarled smuggling routes, making it harder for middlemen to reach foreign markets. This has forced painful choices in Yamouneh, a picturesque hamlet in a neglected pocket of Lebanon where drugs, poverty, religion, and stunning natural beauty converge in unexpected ways. For as long as anyone alive can remember, the yearly cycle in Yamouneh has been driven by the planting, weeding, and harvesting of cannabis. The hashish extracted from the plant and sold to smugglers who spirit it out of the country has done more than any other crop to help the village residents edge out of abject poverty. It has provided reliable income not offered by their legal, more fickle crops, like apples and potatoes, and funded home expansions, truck purchases, and children’s educations.
Now, the drug earns so little that some growers in Yamouneh doubt it is still worth producing. The production here and in other communities made Lebanon the world’s third-largest hashish supplier, after Morocco and Afghanistan, according to the United Nations. Although hashish, a cannabis concentrate with high levels of THC, is illegal to produce, possess, and sell in Lebanon, the government earlier this year passed a law legalizing some cannabis cultivation for medicinal purposes. The law has yet to be implemented, and the cannabis grown in Yamouneh remains illegal because of its high THC content.
Now Lebanon’s economic crisis threatens to do what years of army raids and government efforts to combat the drug never did: reduce hashish production.
Text by Ben Hubbard.