Hashish -- the `petroleum' of Lebanon's Bekaa valley

It won't be a vintage year for Bekaa Valley hashish, but growers say that buyers of ``Lebanese red'' will still get good value. ``There hasn't been enough rain this year so it won't be as good as last year,'' said Abu Abbas as he inspected his field of cannabis, the plant from which hashish is made. ``But it's still okay -- our hashish is never bad.''

Although illegal in Lebanon -- and religously forbidden to the Shiite Muslims who grow the plant -- hashish is the country's chief export crop. One dealer said he expected 175 metric tons of this year's crop to go abroad.

Bekaa residents say the only laws in force are supply and demand. They say hashish, known as the ``petroleum of the Bekaa'' because of its economic importance, engages some 40 percent of the population in the northern part of the valley.

``We feel hashish is bad, but the Lebanese crisis has forced everyone to seek a living as best he can,'' said Abu Ali of Al-Ain village north of Baalbek. ``The Bekaa would be poor without hashish.''

Abu Ali said most hashish is routed through Deir al-Ahmar. It changes hands several times before reaching militia-run ports in Tripoli, Jounieh, and Beirut.

Egyptian traders take about 40 per cent of the Bekaa's hashish, he said. The rest ends up in America, Europe and other Middle Eastern countries.

Cannabis has been grown in Lebanon for centuries, but as an export crop it only took off in the 1960s.

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