Considering Iran went through a seismic revolution, it is strange how little its cannabis laws changed. They can appear contradictory to outsiders, with a lenient approach adopted for limited personal use, yet strict prison sentences in place for those who sell or supply it. The government has also been criticised for its use of the death penalty.
Cannabis laws in Iran
Can you possess and use cannabis in Iran?
Cannabis was not included in Iran’s first set of drug laws. This exclusion suggests that it was widely used in Iranian society, and not regarded as a dangerous substance. However, external influences (growing condemnation of cannabis in Western cultures) meant that Iran’s laws eventually changed.
The first Penal Law of the Pahlavi era (in 1926) referred specifically to the use of bang, the local term for cannabis. Previously, use of cannabis wasn’t a punishable offence. This law introduced prison sentences (eight days to three months) or a fine for those caught using it.
In 1959, the Iranian government declared that cannabis was an illegal substance. This ban laid the grounds for the country’s signature to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs.
These days, the laws regarding cannabis use are rather more ambiguous. Iran is governed by Islamic law, and consumption is only vaguely mentioned. Possession for small amounts of cannabis is almost entirely decriminalised, and reports suggest that prosecution in these instances is rare.
However, the Iranian Anti-Narcotics Law (1997) does state that anyone who “stores, conceals, carries the seeds or capsules of (…) cannabis shall be sentenced to a fine in the amount of one to 30 million rials (…) as well as 1 to 70 lashes.” Also, sentencing is harsh for those who possess 50 kilograms or more of any drugs; those caught with this amount may receive the death penalty. It’s not certain whether this apples to cannabis or not.
These laws may change in the future. Saeed Sefatian, head of the working group on drug demand reduction (in the Expediency Council) has put forward an alternative to the current system, which includes measures towards legalising cannabis use entirely. He suggested that all aspects of cannabis policy should be placed under state management; from cultivation right through to supply and usage.
This isn’t entirely surprising. Although Iran is known for its harsh drug sentencing (for sale and distribution) it’s also adopted some progressive approaches towards drug addiction. This includes providing heroin users with clean needles (in a bid to reduce blood-transmitted diseases) and methadone substitution programmes.
Can you sell cannabis in Iran?
Selling or supplying cannabis in Iran is regarded as a much more serious offence. The penalties are as follows:
- Up to 50 grams – a fine of up to 4 million rials (€85), and up to 50 lashes
- Between 50 and 500 grams – a fine of 4-50 million rials (€85 – €1,062), plus 20 to 74 lashes, plus three years in prison if the court regards it as necessary.
- Between 500 grams and 5 kilograms – a fine of 50-200 million rials (€1,062 – €4,256), plus 50 to 74 lashes, plus three to 15 years imprisonment.
- Over 5 kilograms – death penalty and confiscation of property, with the exemption of providing normal living costs for the family of the convicted.
However, if the offender did not succeed in selling the drugs (with a weight of under 20 kilograms), the sentence is life imprisonment, plus 74 lashes and confiscation of property.
The use of the death penalty for drug-related offences (including cannabis) has been widely criticised across the world. The Iranian government defended their law, claiming that it needed to be severe to address the growing problem of drug trafficking through the Iran-Afghanistan border.
Can you grow cannabis in Iran?
The Anti Narcotics Law specifically states that the “cultivation of cannabis for the purpose of producing narcotic drugs” is illegal. If caught growing plants for illegal purposes, the offender may receive a fine for the first offence, then a fine and 30-70 lashes for a second offence.
If they are caught a third time, this is increased to a fine, 1-70 lashes and two to five years in prison. Those who are foolhardy enough to offend a fourth time may be given the death penalty.
Cultivation isn’t always penalised. If the plants aren’t intended to be used as a narcotic, then they should be tolerated by authorities. However, if the cannabis is found with flowering tops that contain THC, it becomes difficult to prove a different intention.
Article 3: Anybody who stores, conceals, carries the seeds or capsules of poppy, coca leaves or cannabis shall be sentenced to a fine in the amount of one to thirty million rials in case as well as one to seventy lashes. In the case of cannabis seeds, the intention of producing narcotics from them must be established.
Is CBD legal in Iran?
The laws regarding CBD in Iran are somewhat confusing. No distinction is made between CBD and cannabis (despite the fact that CBD has very low levels of THC and cannot produce a ‘high’). CBD is widely accepted as not being a narcotic, but at the time of writing, Iran’s stance on the matter is unclear.
Can cannabis seeds be sent to Iran?
Cannabis seeds are readily available in Iran. As such, they are legal to purchase and sell; though it’s illegal to use them to cultivate plants (with the intent to produce a narcotic).
Medicinal cannabis in Iran
At present, Iran doesn’t have a medicinal cannabis programme. That means it cannot be legally prescribed. However, given that the law tolerates limited personal use of cannabis, it’s relatively easy for patients to self-medicate without risk of getting a prison sentence or a fine.
Industrial hemp in Iran
Hemp is widely grown in Iran. Due to the fact that it doesn’t have high levels of THC (and cannot produce a ‘high’), it’s legal to grow it, and communities use it for practical purposes, such as making fabric or rope. Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are regularly used in Persian cuisine.
Good to know
If you are travelling to Iran (or are a resident of the country), it is useful to know the following:
- According to the Drug Control Organisation, cannabis usage counts for 12% of Iran’s total drug consumption.
- Hossein Katbaei, director of the Camp Jordan Rehabilitation Centre, told The New York Times that the number of patients treated for cannabis abuse had quadrupled in the space of five years. He also claimed that many of the patients were middle-class and often “reasonably well-off”.
- Although the authorities often turn a blind eye to cannabis consumption, the same is not true of cultivation. Cannabis farmers and the police frequently clash, which has created tension in places such as Ghalat, a village in south-west Iran.
A student from the village made a statement to The Observers, claiming that: “the marijuana trade has brought our village daily problems. There are fights between dealers, which often get violent. The police’s reaction to all this has also fostered resentment between residents.”
Cannabis has been cultivated and used for centuries in Iran. It’s believed to have entered the country with the Aryan and Scythian tribes. In ancient times, it was referred to as the ‘herb of the immortal’ and the ‘sacred herb’, and even to this day, it is still called shahdaneh, which means ‘royal seed’.
Before the Islamic era, Zoroastrian priests used the plant in their religious rituals. This traditional practice was then continued by Muslims, though the Mongols of the 13th century favoured hashish.
However, it was more than just a ritualistic plant for the ancient people of Iran. Cannabis was also valued for its medicinal benefit. The Iranian scientist Avicenna recommended it for the treatment of headaches, and the physician Al-Razi believed that hemp leaves were a cure for ear-ache, flatulence, epilepsy and even dandruff.
Cannabis was also historically used in Iran as an appetite stimulant and an aphrodisiac.
During the Prophet Mohammad’s time, attitudes to cannabis became rather more ambiguous. Some theologians claim that Mohammad said: “There will come a day when people will consume a substance called banj. I avoid them and they avoid me.”
Cultivation of cannabis
Several strains of cannabis grow in Iran. The landrace varieties are of the C. indica sp. Afghanica subtype. They’re short (generally less than two metres high) and usually potent. Iran’s sunny, dry climate provides the perfect environment in which to thrive.
Cannabis is cultivated widely across the country, particularly around the cities of Sava, Qasemabad and Sahriar. The land around the city of Shiraz in southern Iran is another prime ‘cannabis hotspot’. As the plant has been growing in Iran for centuries, cannabis farmers are usually highly knowledgeable and skilled. Harvesting usually occurs from the end of August through to the end of November.
Much of the hashish found in Iran is from Afghanistan or Pakistan. However, Iran has a small domestic industry, and the hashish produced is said to be of exceptional quality.
The country produces superior-quality and ordinary-quality hashish, which both require different methods of production.
Superior hashish is made after the plants have budded, and the buds and smaller leaves are sticky to the touch. The leaves at the top of the stalks and the buds are gathered, then stored in the dark until they are completely dry.
After this, they are spread on a cloth or rug, and rolled up into it. Then the cloth is pressed and rubbed. This process ensures the sticky paste sticks to the rug. The rug is then beaten over a smoother piece of fabric, so the female flowers fall into it. The sticky, greasy, brownish flowers and paste that remain on the rug are rolled and formed into pellets of highest quality hashish. The fallen flowers (also sticky) are rolled into pellets, then consumed as hashish.
The cannabis plants are gathered, then their branches are removed from the stalks and tied together (so they resemble old-fashioned brooms). These are stored in the dark until dry. Next, the branches are shaken, which makes the leaves fall to the ground.
The leaves are kneaded. This produces a malleable green substance, which is then placed on a cloth or rug, then rubbed (much like superior hashish production). The paste that sticks to the cloth is shaped into pellets – this is second-grade hashish. The crushed leaves that don’t stick to the cloth are moistened, then shaped into pellets too. These aren’t very potent and are referred to as ‘horse-hoof hashish’.
Will it be legalised in the future?
Some of Iran’s drugs policies are quite progressive, which means there’s a possibility the government may further soften the cannabis laws. Given that it’s so widely used in the country (and that the authorities mostly tolerate it), it may be legalised for medicinal purposes in the future.
- Disclaimer:While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide legal advice, as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.