Lebanese marijuana underground market is enjoying the fact that the war in Syria has made authorities leave the spread of the drug unattended.
Abu Sami is practically rubbing his hands together with glee: the Syrian conflict has paralyzed authorities at home and left the nearby border virtually uncontrolled.
“This year, the harvest was abundant, and the authorities have left us alone because they are otherwise occupied,” he tells AFP in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa region.
In the past, the Lebanese army would descend annually to destroy some of the illicit crop, but this year the harvest has gone untouched.
The area shares a long, porous border with Syria.
After the harvest in Abu Sami’s bucolic village, at the foot of an arid mountain, marijuana is brought to buildings where it is dried and processed into hashish.
All along the winding roads of the hamlet, men and women work on the crop behind half-closed curtains, and defend the industry as their only source of employment.
During Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanese hashish, which is known for its quality, fed a flourishing industry that generated hundreds of millions of dollars a year in income.
Hashish is a cannabis product derived from the resin of the plant, and produced in large quantities in the Bekaa.
Under pressure from the United States, Lebanon has launched eradication campaigns, and in past years, the army bulldozed thousands of hectares of cannabis.
Farmers have often taken up arms to defend their crop — growers fired a rocket at an eradication team in 2012 — and call for the legalization of what they say is part of their ancestral culture.
But this year, there’s been no sign of the army.
“The state is immersed in problems related to Syria and doesn’t want to open a new front. Otherwise they would have come down hard on us,” says Afif, a villager.
Government officials admit as much.
“There was no destruction of growing this year… The Syrian crisis played a major role in that,” Joseph Skaff, chief of Lebanon’s office for countering drugs, money laundering and terrorism, told AFP.
For Abu Sami, Afif and others working in the industry, Lebanon’s instability and the war raging in Syria are blessings in disguise.
In a bid to stem the flow of militants and weapons from Lebanon, Syria has replaced its border guards with army troops who are too busy fighting to patrol.
And routes back and forth across the border to Syria have increased as refugees and rebels chart new paths.
“Nowadays, anything goes because it’s chaos on the Syrian side,” says Abu Sami.
“Where there is war, drugs follow,” he said.