Benjamin Zand takes the BBC's mobile bureau to Lebanon. In the first of a two-part series, he explores Lebanon's cannabis trade.
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BBC Pop Up is the BBC's mobile bureau.
We travel to different cities for a month at a time
Lebanon is a very small country at the edge of
Historically, these borders have meant that it's
become a centre of many Middle Eastern conflicts, despite its small
For centuries, it's acted as a refuge for
We have Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shia
It has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other country in
the world except Turkey, with one in five people in Lebanon being a
For two years, the country was left without a president, but
that ended in October last year, when we elected this guy.
So we're currently doing the BBC Pop-up story booth.
Basically, we set up a camera in random
locations about town, and we
ask people what stories they want to tell.
The best thing about Lebanon is probably, at my age, is
What I really love about it is its diversity.
Where ever you go, you will find people from different groups and
religions. The majority is Christian and religion, they are probably
about 100 Jewish people. It is very friendly. You come down to a streak
that there is, you will see Christians and Muslims, having a
great time together. You can either speak English or French or both.
Actually, a lot of food came from Lebanon. Commerce, falafel, tabulate
salad. What is the meat on mystic cold? Leben on is a mix of hostility
and positivity, see you have angry people and positive people trying to
do things. What would a good story be? Give me a good story. It would
be interesting to highlight the fact that Beirut was destroyed and
rebuilt seven times. We're not having a frank conversation among
ourselves, we're talking about women's issues, income inequality,
gay rights. I suggest you go to the Valley controlled by the Shia
Muslims. They are trying to find out where the supply of hashes coming
from. They tried to grow it. I was told that is a lot of hash each. I
guess it does. I've never tried it. I'm not looking to get into
something like that, but I know a lot of people do. It looks that
there's only one story we can do then, hashish. Cannabis has been in
Lebanon for centuries, but I quickly found most people were not keen to
talk about it openly and camera. Punishment is just smoking can be
harsh, so people don't want to admit they do it. Eventually, I found
someone who had written extensively about hashish in Lebanon and he
agreed to talk, as long as we didn't show his face. Tell me what I need
to know about hashish in Lebanon. It's so common now across all
classes and regions. What is the low? If it's not your first offence,
you could get a few months or years. For dealers it is more. Some people
charge for using, because they're one of the few people who don't
smoke. But nobody talks about it, because it is stigmatised. A person
who suffers from that will be ostracised. Who is making money from
it? Everyone is making money from it. The growers, the dealers, of
course and sadly, the people entrusted in fighting drugs are
making a good income out of it. The only people really paying the price
of young people. Where'd you find the dealers in the country?
I wanted to speak to one of these growers to find out how they could
justify a tree that is illegal and violent. During the Civil War,
cannabis culture flourished here and I heard the Syrian war was causing
the same problem. This is pretty much the most dangerous and lawless
part of the country, very to Syria and it has seen Isis infiltration,
kidnappings, bombings, not nice things. But it is famous for
something very different and that's for having the mass of Lebanon
hashish farms. We're going to speak to one of the drug lords. We're
actually near Syria. Yes, Syria is right this way. If infiltration
happens, it can happen three here, so there are a lot of checkpoints
here. Most of the suicide bombings that happen in Beirut, everybody
came through that way. We're currently waiting for the hashish
farmer. He's asked us to come here, because he doesn't want us to come
to his house, because he doesn't know who we are. It's pretty
dangerous over there. Nice to meet you. Thank you for having us.
Nice to have the knowledge that there is a couple of grenades in the
back of the car. There you go. He's just handed me, is that an AK-47?
He's passing it around. Does everyone know who you are? Are you
the kingpin here? If we tell someone we're with you, we're safe? This is
so you can tell someone is a drug so you can tell someone is a drug
kingpin, his ice is about ten times bigger than anyone else in the area.
If we leaked this guy off, it's game over. Do you have kids? That's a lot
of lobbying going on. You've got a golden pistol. Is it loaded right
now? He's just pulled out a machine gun and a bazooka. Is that a
bazooka? What do you use the bazooka for? You've use this against Isis?
Ali told us that recently, the so-called Islamic State infiltrated
the nearby village. He said as soon as he heard about it, he jumped on a
truck and picked up weapons with some of the other hashish farmers,
and according to him, they fought them off. Because they are
distracted with Isis, they are distracted with the threat of the
threat of Syria. Have you actually fired this?
Is this where the magic happens? Why did you choose black and red?
You've got good taste. It seems that everybody is your enemy, because
Hezbollah don't want you to do this, the government don't want you to,
Isis. Who is on your side? What do you want your legacy to be?
Do you want to be really famous? Do you want everyone to know who you
are you did? He is giving me a tour. Here we go.
While. Mountains of hashish. Hashish is illegal in Lebanon. How
can you be so open about it? Have you had to actually fight
against the government to protect crops?
There's just hashish everywhere, were soaked in it. How much do you
make? Who is buying this hashish? How did you get hashish from here to
Europe? It's difficult to very tight Ali's claims about the government,
but Lebanon is thought to have big problems with corruption. You remind
me a bit of someone like Pablo Escobar. You happy to appear on
camera. Have you actually been convicted by
the government of anything in court? How does that feel, to be sentenced
to death. You have a hashish farm, you have killed a lot of people. Do
you not deserve to go to jail? If you run this country, would you
legalise hashish? You seem like a difficult man to pin down, because
on the one hand, ECU for this to try and make money for the people in the
area, but then you also kill people and you are dealing in an illegal
trade. Do you think you could have done it another way that wasn't
illegal? Do you think I'll get into trouble
with the police because I have hashish leaves on my shoes and on my
clogs? That was a weird day. Ali was either
really friendly uncle who foot so happens to be a killer and a drug
dealer. And he was massively open about it. Back to Beirut now. I'm a
bit concerned, because we've all got hashish all over us and if they find
you, you get in serious trouble and get put in jail. Were going to try
dust ourselves off. There are checkpoints all the way back. Highly
is quoted as out of his village, as he said it was unsafe to do
otherwise. Then we headed back to Beirut. Despite being covered in
layers of hashish from Ali's factory, we headed straight to the
police office. I wanted to know how Ali could be so open about this
without getting into trouble with the authorities. People speaking to
hear tell me the police too quick to punish the small-time consumers and
are too reluctant to punish the big-time growers in the country.
I've arranged to meet the head of drug enforcement here to see if he
agrees. English? BBC. Yes. I'm not purposely as close to you in the
lift. Where are we going now? What is in these things? Hashish. Do
you consider hashish as bad as heroin? Hashish is the most
dangerous drugs for the human being. How many people do you arrest each
year for hashish? Thousands of people, hundreds a year. 2000, 3000
during a year. I can put you in jail for three years. Three years for
hashish? Yes, all the boxes, we have drugs. We have big agriculture for
thousands square of land for hashish. You know about that? We
went to a farm to see. All, you went to a farm? That was one of the most
amazing things was seeing a hashish farmer who was willing to go on
camera and talk about it. Is it not illegal to grow? Yes, it's not
legal. How did he get away with growing hashish and talking about
it? Since the war in Syria, our government took the decision to send
us and destroy the hashish. So you can tackle these guys because of the
war in Syria and resources are elsewhere? Our ability is not
enough, because most of the guys there have maybe weapons more than
the police. When we went to the spartan, the guy was kind of taking
out all the weapons he has, boasting that the government can never touch.
If I have 100 soldiers, I can go and put him like a mouse, OK? On the one
hand, you have these kind of drug dealers and hashish farmers, who can
get away with it and talk openly on TV about growing hashish, but then
you have people who are small-time consumers, who are scared to even
talk about smoking it. How has it got to this point? It's a good
question. It's something to make ourselves upset. We are interested
to get the drugs dealer and put in jail for hundreds of years. What we
do with addicts and drug users, like sick people. One argument he would
users there's nothing else for him to farm but hashish. He has a liar.
They try to make that Beagle, because they benefit to make the
hashish legal. It's war between the good guy and the bad guy. Would it
not make society safer in a way, because you wouldn't need drug
lords, the government could control hashish farming? Yes, I cannot
expect one day that hashish will be legal. It's clear that the war in
Syria has had a huge effect, but it doesn't mean they have stopped
arresting people for smoking hashish. This man was in jail for a
hashish conviction. It was overturned, but it changes like the
good. I was a straight-A student, but my life was put on hold, because
I was sent to prison for smoking. They got me, I went to the station.
They put the only torture device, where they handcuff you and your
upside down. I was 19 at the time. How long are you in prison for? I
was in prison for a year and three months. Did they find hashish on
you? There was no evidence. The arrested Ewing said you would a drug
dealer, basically. Did you deal in drugs? Not at all, I don't be too.
What was the worst thing that happened to you in prison? I got
knifed. It is a horrible place. You find killers. Block B was controlled
by Isis. The social destruction that was the hardest point about the
experience. When you're a guy who has been to prison. Some people say
you are doing something illegal. To me, is not illegal. What am I doing?
Smoking and at home. It's crazy, it must read your life, you got kicked
out of university and you're still smoking hashish. It was the
government. Do you see yourself as a criminal? The government made me a
criminal. I'm not sure. I'm a nice guy. I just smoke. His story shows
just how serious the consequences can be from messing around with
hashish. For a country with so much of it, could it ever be legal? Judy
the country's civil War, the industry generated hundreds of
billions of dollars. A couple of years ago, the leader of the
Progressive party made headlines after he treated calling for
legalisation of cannabis. Some got excited. I met with one of his party
members to see if they still thought that way. He seemed busy, so I had
to be quick. So you want hashish to be legalised in Lebanon on? Yes. Do
you see that is something that will actually happen. It's not easy. They
want people to be able to smoke it on the streets grow it freely?
If it's legal to grow here in farm but illegal to smoke it, what's the
point? OK, all right. Thank very much.
It doesn't seem that marijuana is going to be legalised any time soon
in Lebanon. What does seem possible is growing it and exporting it
illegal, but smoking it could get you into big trouble. Some people
say that is happening already. Do I just talk about something? OK. Is he
a Pablo Escobar after season two or the episode where he's running for
president? Nobody knows anything about him yet. I don't know.
Hashish, I don't know that much about hashish. What do you know
about hashish? I know nothing. It's very quiet on the weather front
today, but there are some changes afoot. In fact, early next week,
winning four and a chill,