THE STEEP, NARROW ROAD, covered in gravel, led up the mountains, away from the yellow plains. It was late summer in the Bekaa Valley region of eastern Lebanon and I was on the road to the village of Yammouneh, situated in the valley just over the mountains. The road leading to Yammouneh continued through it, with most houses set on either side, made from stone or cement, and the occasional dekkaneh, or corner shop, where cigarettes and basic staples are sold. At the far end were a few small ponds, the water in them ice-cold. A man in his forties, wearing jeans and sandals, served strong coffee and tea in small plastic cups from the back of a minivan parked next to the ponds. The only smell stronger than that of coffee was the sweet aroma emanating from Yammouneh’s plentiful cannabis plantations.
“Yammouneh is famous for one thing: our hashish,” said Fadi Shreif, a man in his fifties who works as a tourist guide at the famous Roman ruins in the nearby town of Baalbek. “If you go to Europe or anywhere else and you come across hashish from Yammouneh, you’re happy. We have good climate for hashish. There’s sweet water from the mountains, the altitude is high and we’re protected between the mountains.”
Shreif’s enthusiasm belies the raging conflict in the region over the crop. Recent decades have seen international pressure force the Lebanese government to crack down on cannabis farmers by destroying crop. But the government’s capacity to act against famers has depended on its involvement, from year to year, in other conflicts in the region. At the same time, locals have not yielded easily—with towns such as Yammouneh sustained almost entirely through cannabis cultivation, and few other livelihood options, farmers and other residents have mounted fierce protests against the government’s efforts to destroy fields.