Pubdate: Thu, 22 May 2014
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2014 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Authors: Laila Bassam and Dominic Evans
Page: 35


The Syrian civil war has led to a surge in cannabis production in
Lebanon as the country's army is forced to focus on security rather
than drug eradication.

In the BekaaValley,Ali Nasri Shamas carries a revolver by his side and
an automatic rifle in the back of his car, weapons he says he's ready
to use if the army moves in to try to destroy his lucrative cannabis

But he may not need them this year. With Syria's civil war 30 miles
away, Lebanese security forces have other priorities than their annual
showdown with the Bekaa hashish growers.

"If they want a confrontation that's no problem for us, it will be
harvest season soon," Mr Shamas says, standing in a field of the
green, spiky-leafed plants from which hashish resin is extracted.

The increase in cannabis farming comes as the FBI in the United States
is considering waiving its rules on use of the drug to help it recruit

At the moment, the FBI insists that agents have not taken drugs in the
past three years, but that has ruled out many potential hackers as the
agency faces unprecedented challenges as it attempts to combat cyber

In Lebanon, security forces normally send tractors, bulldozers and
armoured vehicles to destroy cannabis crops, leading to clashes with
armed farmers.

Two years ago, farmers blocked roads when security forces started
burning cannabis. The government backed down and the interior minister
promised to look into compensating farmers for crop eradication and
finding them alternative sources of income, pledges the farmers say
have not been honoured.

Last year, as violence spilt over the border from Syria's civil war -
with bombs and gunfights in Lebanon's coastal cities and rockets
striking towns in the Bekaa - authorities called a halt to a battle
they had waged with farmers since the end of Lebanon's own 1975-1990
civil war.

During that war, the fertile Bekaa Valley produced up to 1,000 tons of
cannabis resin annually, before it was briefly stamped out under a
United Nations programme between 1991-1993.

"From the 1990s until 2012, cannabis eradication took place on an
annual basis," said Colonel Ghassan Shamseddine, head of Lebanon's
drug enforcement unit. "But in 2012... it was halted because of the
situation on the Lebanese borders and the instability in Syria," he
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt