Cannabis in Syria – Laws, Use, and History

Syria is currently in the midst of serious conflict. As such, the country is divided among different factions. In some places, cannabis use may land the offender in prison. In other places, any form of trafficking may result in the death penalty. However, cannabis wasn’t always frowned upon. In the past, hashish was widely used across the country.

    • Capital
    • Dimashq (Damascus)
    • Population
    • 18,924,000
    • CBD Products
    • Illegal
    • Recreational cannabis
    • Illegal
    • Medicinal cannabis
    • Illegal

Cannabis laws in Syria

Can you possess and use cannabis in Syria?

Syria is currently in the midst of a bitter, bloody war. At the time of writing, over 500,000 Syrians are either dead or missing as a direct result of the conflict. Due to the fact that different parts of the country are controlled by different factions (such as al-Qaeda and IS), cannabis ‘laws’ differ, depending on the location.

For example, up until recently, Raqqa was under IS rule. This meant that cannabis use was not only forbidden, but offenders were automatically put in prison (which some reports claim had torture facilities).

In the parts of the country controlled by President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian Penal Code is adhered to. This states that cannabis use and possession is illegal. However, the law also regards those who are addicted to drugs as ‘psychologically ill’ and doesn’t automatically treat them as criminals. If the authorities don’t regard the offender as an addict, then possession can result in a prison sentence (possibly life imprisonment).

Can you sell cannabis in Syria?

Drug trafficking, selling and distributing is regarded as a far more serious offence in Syria. Again, ‘laws’ differ depending on which part of the country the offender is operating in, but under Syrian law, if caught selling cannabis, the offender could receive as many as 20 years in prison, and a large fine.

For large-scale drug trafficking, the death penalty may also be used. Due to lack of information from this war-torn country in recent years, it’s impossible to say how many people have been executed as a result of drug-smuggling. What is known is that President Assad has announced amnesties over the years, commuting the death penalty to life imprisonment for past crimes, except for the trafficking of drugs or weapons.

In 2017, Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar stated that Syria was committed to eradicating drug trafficking, and would cooperate with all international counternarcotic efforts.

Can you grow cannabis in Syria?

Despite the severity of the law, it’s thought that cannabis is still grown widely across the country. For example, in northern Syria, cannabis cultivation is widespread, as there are few effective forces to prevent or deter the farmers.

However, that doesn’t mean that penalties aren’t severe if cannabis cultivators are caught. Syrian citizen Ali Abdul Aziz recalled what happened after his father planted cannabis on his land. “The Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (PYD) (…) overlooked my father’s land,” he said. “My father had planted cannabis to get rid of his accumulated debts, after all other means to pay them off were closed to him, due to the increasing cost of agriculture and the scarcity of needed material.”

The PYD stopped the sale of Aziz’s father’s crops, putting both him and his partner in prison. They were also made to pay 100,000 Syrian pounds for each month of the prison sentence.

In areas controlled by militant Islamic groups, cannabis crops are routinely burned. However, in other parts of the country, cannabis cultivation has been used as a political tool. For example, when poverty-stricken farmers began to protest against Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, Damascus’s authorities quietly ceased eradicating cannabis crops, in an attempt to smooth over the situation.

Is CBD legal in Syria?

CBD is not differentiated from cannabis in Syrian law. As a result, it is regarded as an illegal substance, despite being low in THC (the substance responsible for the ‘high’) and it’s forbidden to sell, buy or use it.

Can cannabis seeds be sent to Syria?

Cannabis seeds are illegal in Syria, and cannot be mailed into the country through the post.

Medicinal cannabis in Syria

There is no medicinal cannabis programme in Syria, and it seems highly unlikely that the government will be introducing one any time soon.

PROHBTD visited Syria in 2017 to talk to Asya Abdullah (Democratic Union Party) about medicinal cannabis. When asked whether it would be legalised in the future, she replied:

“I understand that there are a few Western countries that have made a decision that cannabis consumption is now legal. But every country has laws that are appropriate for its local population (….) it seems to me that such a move will not be accepted here by most of the residents.”

Industrial hemp in Syria

The US Congressional Research Service reports that hemp is being produced in Syria. However, beyond this, there is scant evidence to suggest that it’s actively being cultivated or that there is an industrial hemp industry in the country.

Good to know

If you are travelling to Syria (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:

  • The World Drug Report of 2006 tentatively estimated that 2% of Syria’s population used cannabis. This is relatively low compared to other countries in the world.
  • Syria is a transit country – which means that drugs are smuggled through it to other destinations.
  • Some sources claim that cannabis use has increased since the war broke out in Syria, especially among students.

Cannabis history

Experts believe that cannabis has been in Syria for centuries. Some suggest that Arabs brought it with them after they conquered the country in the 9th century, and unlike alcohol (which was banned by Fatima King al-Hakim in AD 1000), its use was permitted.

Others suggest that the Sufis brought cannabis to Syria. Sufis (Islamic mystics) used cannabis in their religious rituals, and prized it for its psychoactive properties.

Either way, it’s known that cannabis use was prevalent throughout the Middle-East from the 13th century onwards. Hashish became an even more integral part of Syrian life after the Mamelukes overthrew the Ayyubid dynasty. This happened in the mid-13th century, and marked a period of decadence and prosperity for the country.

A Syrian poet of the time, called al-Is-Irdi, even wrote a poem about the benefits of hashish.

                The secret of hashish lifts up the spirit

                In an ascent of disembodied thinking.

                It is pure spirit. Free are its confines

                From worries. Only the elect may taste it.

                (…)

                Hashish involves no sin. You are not punished.

Despite hashish’s popularity (and the general acceptance of the rulers at the time), eradication attempts were made throughout history. For example, in the 14th century, Sultan Nizam-Ud-Din ordered all cannabis plants to be burned, and sentenced all hashish consumers to having their teeth pulled out!

By the 16th century, attitudes to cannabis in Syria had shifted considerably. Once regarded as an opulent drug, it became known as the ‘grass of the poor’, and wealthy people sought to distance themselves from it. 

The present-day cannabis trade

Syria is a transit country, which means drugs are regularly trafficked through it. Most of these drugs (including hashish) are destined for other Middle Eastern countries, Western Europe and the Americas.

In addition to being located on an important illegal trade route, Syria also has a cannabis market of its own. In the Syrian Kurdish regions in the north, cannabis cultivation has become increasingly popular, as impoverished farmers turn to the trade to generate money to live on.

Cultivation is particularly widespread in towns like Ayn al-Arab (which the Kurdish people call Kobane). The Kurdish security force deny responsibility for this, instead blaming Turkish groups seeking to exploit the areas’ economic problems.

The Kurdish security force are not arresting cannabis growers, regardless of who is responsible. This is largely because to do so would be to strip villagers of a livelihood, in an area where no other alternatives exist.

It’s rumoured that some of the money generated from cannabis cultivation is used to fund militant groups across the country. There is evidence to suggest that these groups are actively involved in funding the plantations, and trafficking the hashish to the western world.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a notable example, but it’s certainly not the only one. Hezbollah (a Lebanese militant group) has also been implicated, and it’s estimated its annual income from drugs-related activities is around €4.35 billion.

Syria and the Lebanese cannabis trade

Tensions have historically been high between Syria and Lebanon. Syria occupied Lebanon in 1976, and transformed Bekaa Valley from a wheat, wine and fruit-growing area, to one devoted almost solely to drug cultivation.

It was reported that Syrian soldiers operating in the area made as much as $30,000 (€27,000) a year from the trade of the drugs. Higher officials, including former President Hafez al-Assad’s brother, made a lot more.

Some reports also suggested that the US government at the time (under President Bush) was complicit in the operations, whitewashing the extent of Syrian involvement. If this is the case, they effectively permitted the region to become a significant global hub for the trade of heroin and hashish.

These allegations forced the US to openly pressure Syrian forces into implementing widespread eradication operations.

By 2005, Syria’s occupation of Lebanon had ended. After the troops withdrew, hashish production declined. However, in more recent years, it has increased again, as Lebanese forces are focused on cross-border violence and the movements of over 800,000 refugees. It’s believed that Hezbollah now control Bekaa Valley.

Will cannabis be legalised in the future?

Given the current political situation, not to mention the tough laws regarding cannabis use, sale and cultivation, it seems unlikely that the cannabis situation will change in Syria any time soon. Medicinal use has not been mentioned as a possibility by any authorities, and in some parts of the country, its recreational use is deeply condemned. 

  • 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.

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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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    Maurice Veldman

    Maurice Veldman is a member of the Dutch Association of Criminal Lawyers and one of the Netherlands’ most notable cannabis lawyers. With 25 years’ experience in the field, his knowledge of criminal and administrative law supports cannabis sellers and hemp producers by addressing the inequalities between the individual and the state.
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