The Weird Link Between Marijuana and Radical Islamists in Syria

As if the civil war in Syria that’s been raging since 2011 hasn’t caused enough violence, death and destruction, it appears that the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could be launching a war on drugs. ISIS released a video on YouTube showing a dozen armed men in a field full of marijuana plants. After denouncing the evils of growing and using drugs, the plants were uprooted, put in a pile and burned.

In areas under ISIS control it has been reported that the group has banned the use of all psychoactive substances, even legal ones like cigarettes. It’s estimated that 60 percent of men and 20 percent of women in Syria smoke tobacco in the form of cigarettes or narghiles (water pipes).

Farmers in the northern part of Syria have developed a prosperous marijuana industry despite the drug being illegal. Now they have become targets for Islamic fighters like ISIS who consider drugs to be against Islamic law. But why would farmers risk their livelihoods and possibly their lives to grow an illicit crop? In a word: war. Relentless aerial bombardment, de-industrialization, economic collapse and the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of people have shattered much of the legal agricultural economy of Syria. A recent report from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said, “Even if the conflict ceased now and GDP grew at an average rate of five per cent each year, it is estimated that it would take the Syrian economy 30 years to return to the economic level of 2010.”

Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib is a mountainous area near the Turkish border. Before the civil war, it was celebrated for growing olives but now cannabis is the main cash crop. Farmers say the plant is easy to grow and pays better than olives. Ahmad, a 31-year-old pot cultivator, explained, ” We have no land, no trade, nothing. If it wasn’t for smuggling [cannabis], we’d starve to death.”

– Read the entire article at Alternet.