A tip-off from the public in August led the Sharia Court to two marijuana farms in Idlib province, now largely controlled by the Victory Army and led by Jabhat a-Nusra. Local civilian police, in cooperation with the court, subsequently seized the marijuana and burned it. The offenders are in jail awaiting trial.

Like consuming alcohol, the production and use of drugs is haram according to Sharia law, but it carries a greater sentence, says Ahmad al-Alawan, the president of the Sharia Court in the northern Idlib countryside. “The judge has the ability to rule based on the impact of the crime on users of the drug.” Sentences range from imprisonment to capital punishment.

Nevertheless, marijuana cultivation is booming in the northern countryside of rebel-controlled Idlib as part of a burgeoning war economy. In recent months, the phenomenon got so out of control that the Sharia Court, which investigates and sentences all those charged with any criminal act, ultimately decided to embrace the “broken windows” theory of law enforcement within an Idlib context: “Combatting the cultivation and trafficking of drugs is among our highest priorities,” al-Alawan says, citing the demands of the public to crack down and “intensify” punishment for offenders.

The corrosive influence of a thriving marijuana industry “is linked to other types of moral corruption,” al-Alawan tells Syria Direct’s Ghalia Mukhalalati.

“In the liberated areas of Idlib that have become more stable,” the Sharia Court president says, “we are paying attention to offenses like these.”

Q: Who are the farmers that were arrested?

As the Sharia Court located in the region, we seized the farmland where marijuana was being grown and destroyed it completely. After a council of experts analyzed the plants, we confirmed that the plants being cultivated were indeed marijuana. This is the third seizure of marijuana farms in Idlib.

After the investigation, we discovered that the sons of farmers living in IS-controlled areas are the source of the seeds. They communicate with the farmers and move between A-Raqqa and Idlib.

Marijuana farming is not limited to any specific age group.

A raid on a marijuana farm in 2013. Photo courtesy of Damascus Bureau.

Q: Describe the role of the Sharia Court?

The Sharia Court deals with all issues, from small misdemeanors to murders and executions. It is comprised of a court for personal cases, a court of reconciliation, and one for civil cases.

Q: How will the marijuana farmers be prosecuted?

There will be a trial to prove the charges against them at the end of the investigation in accordance with Islamic Sharia law. Growing marijuana is a crime that leads to corruption on the ground. It is considered one of the crimes punishable by what we call tazir, which is a punishment whereby the judge can decide what is appropriate based on the severity of the crime.

The punishment varies according to the quantities of hashish produced and how much harm results from it. For example, the damage arising from growing marijuana may include a person who is harmed while taking the drug or becomes an addict. In these cases, the offense will be reflected in the punishment for those who planted the crops and the penalty will be greater [than that of the addict]. The judge has the ability to rule based on the impact of the crime on users of the drug.

The punishment for drugs is severe, more so than consuming alcohol. The punishment could be as severe as execution in the event that the judge is convinced that the drug dealer, user, or grower has a record of drug abuse.

However, if the judge is shown that the offender recently got involved with drugs, then the sentence will be less severe than capital punishment.

If a person is not sentenced to death, then the punishment will be time in prison. The judge determines the duration [of jail time] depending on how much harm the accused did by distributing drugs.

Q: Have drugs spread recently in Idlib, specifically after rebels took control of the province? Has there been a higher demand for drugs by civilians?

There weren’t any marijuana farms in this area before the revolution. This is a new issue because of some people’s opinion that there are no laws or accountability since the area came under rebel control.

In the shadow of wars and conflicts and in the absence of law and order, some weak souls have been tempted to engage in acts of corruption, even if they harm the entire community. They are not motivated by anything except material gain.

In the liberated areas of Idlib that have become more stable, we are paying attention to offenses like these. Currently, combatting the cultivation and trafficking of drugs is among our highest priorities.

We have a council responsible for pursuing and combatting drugs or any other phenomenon that may cause the spread of corruption.

Most of the people [in the area] are Muslims and consider the cultivation, selling, and use of drugs to be a major crime. They are constantly demanding punishments be intensified and believe those involved are corrupting young people.

Q: Do people openly use drugs? Do people sell drugs in private? Do you have an example of a civilian who was caught in the act of selling or using hash?

Drug use happens in private only. No one dares to use drugs in public, knowing the severity of the punishment.

There have been several cases in which drug users have been caught. Usually, drug use is linked to other types of moral corruption. In some cases where we caught the drug user, they were also a thief or had some other illegal source of income such as dealings in prostitution or the like.

Q: Are there hospitals and private clinics to treat drug users?

Unfortunately, there are no hospitals or clinics currently to treat cases of addiction, but we are working diligently with doctors to open centers soon to treat such cases.