The Islamic State reportedly seized a cannabis field from the Free Syrian Army on Tuesday. A video posted on YouTube by a group called “a3maq news” shows militants from the extremist group walking through the field in Aleppo province in northern Syria and setting fire to some of the plants.
The video shows several men in the field holding weapons and talking about the marijuana plants. Some men begin to chop off huge bushels and place them in neatly stacked piles that are then doused in gasoline and set aflame.
The YouTube channel appears to focus on news about ISIS in Aleppo. Also on Tuesday, the group posted a video showing the militants’ capture of a huge arsenal near the city. Some of the weapons shown, including a M198 Howitzer cannon, are U.S.-made. Several Twitter accounts associated with the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, shared the video.
— أبو بكر الجنابي (@AbuBakrAlIraqi) August 27, 2014
— Faris Al Britani (@FarisBritani) August 27, 2014
Rebel groups have destroyed marijuana fields in Syria before, claiming that using the drug is banned under the Islamic law. In that respect, ISIS is no different. The militant group operates under the strictest interpretation of Sharia and imposes a severe ban on things deemed haram (sinful) wherever they go. Earlier this summer, ISIS burned a large pile of cigarettes in Iraq, in order to enforce a ban on smoking, a longtime target for the group. In November, the group said it burned at least 1.5 million packs of cigarettes in Syria.
ISIS has suddenly become the richest and most alarming extremist force in the region. Under their strict interpretation of the law, the marijuana field should be destroyed. But the video actually shows only a small bushel being set on fire, not the entire crop. Given that the militants are interested in seizing as many of a country’s resources as they can (the Mosul Dam, several oil fields, an airport…) it’s unlikely that they would eliminate the possibility of financial gain from the marijuana.
The marijuana business in Syria has been booming since the start of the civil war in 2011, and much of the country’s supply is sold to neighboring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Israel. In July, World Crunch reported that cannabis had become a major means of financial gains for Syrian rebel groups, namely those in the Syria Revolutionaries Front, a coalition of Free Syrian Army-affiliated brigades. Fearing the more extremist groups, like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, cannabis farmers would pay FSA fighters to protect their fields and ensure the goods would safely cross the border. FSA fighters, according to the report, used the money to buy weapons.
ISIS has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria in the past few months and their brutal methods are not exactly in line with marijuana's "chill" reputation. Perhaps the militants should indulge in a little puff, puff, pass.