Syrian Refugees Defy ISIS by Growing Cannabis

By David Jenison

Syrian Refugees Defy ISIS by Growing Cannabis

Numerous Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon, and many now grow cannabis. This act directly defies the Islamic State prohibition in which cannabis violations can result in death.

Syrian refugees, especially from the ISIS-dominant Raqqa province, fled to Lebanon in recent years due to the violence, and many live in tents near cannabis-grow areas like the Bekaa Valley. In a December 2015 Reuters report, a local farmer said that Syrians have come for years to serve a seasonal workers during the cannabis harvest, but many now live in Lebanon all year. Cannabis cultivation is illegal in both countries, but people working the fields face significantly less risk in Lebanon. In parts of Syria, cannabis possession can result in an immediate beheading, and even if Lebanon did make heads roll, the army is currently preoccupied with its Syrian border. Furthermore, women make up a large percentage of the work force, and they enjoy significantly more freedoms in Lebanon than in the Islamic State.

Escaping the Raqqa province is no easy feat under ISIS, and many cannabis workers send money back home to help their loved ones survive and finance their own escapes. NBC News described cannabis harvesting in Lebanon as a “lifeline for Syrian refugees,” and the harvest is thriving

Lebanon is one of the world's top cannabis producers, and the BBC reported in late 2016 that some in the country are pushing to legalize the plant. The Syrian civil war, and the subsequent influx of refugees, has negatively affected the country's economy. The cannabis industry has already provided opportunities for some Syrians who fled the war, and legalization would also the government to tax the industry and raise revenue. 

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