Cannabis in Iran:
Situated between Afghanistan’s extensive poppy fields and eager Western markets, Iran has an extensive history of domestic opium, alcohol, tobacco and cannabis use dating back centuries. In recent decades, heroin has become more popular. Most recently, the use of methamphetamine has increased and is reportedly in demand across the social spectrum, from tired workers to women seeking weight loss. Cocaine has become a regular feature at parties among Tehran’s richer residents; young people throughout the city smoke marijuana and pop ecstasy pills; opium viewed as an older person’s drug is still widely considered to be culturally acceptable and widely used throughout the country. In seedy corners of south Tehran, addicts gather to inject heroin. But when crystal meth hit the streets it managed to transcend social divides, and could be found everywhere in the city.
According to what Iranian authorities say more than 2.2 million of Iran’s 80 million citizens already are addicted to illegal drugs, including 1.3 million on registered treatment programs. The country is waging one of the world’s most expensive and dangerous war against drugs streaming across its 572 mile border with Afghanistan. Enormous quantities of opium, hashish and heroin have been seized. But the flow of drugs to their domestic market, and to Europe, has not been stopped. While, for example, one ton of hash is seized, 10 tons make it to the West. In the West, Iran is often mischaracterized as a monolithic pariah state. The reality is more complicated. Iran’s drug war, which frequently metes out death sentences for traffickers and has reportedly precipitated thousands of police deaths, reflects the country’s commitment to the harsh status advocated by American and international drug warriors.
Its efforts to treat drug addiction as a public health problem instead of a criminal justice issue, however, are on the cutting edge of progressive harm reduction efforts. Authorities are considering liberalizing laws around using cannabis and opium but Iran’s drug policy lime most anything else, is more complicated than many people think. It is an actual possibility but not in the short term. Institutions are really discussing measures to regulate the drug market. By regulation of the drug market, we can mean many different things. One of the ideas is to allow certain substances, in this case cannabis and opium, to be used under specific circumstances. It hasn’t been clearly stated what these circumstances are. What is interesting though is that the discussion is open. It is a very interesting fact that in the Islamic Republic of Iran such discussions are taking place.
When Western audiences, particularly Americans, think about Iran, they compare it to an authoritarian, dark place. Whoever has been traveling to Iran finds a different kind of place. Which doesn’t mean that it’s all happy. But it’s complicated. There is a fundamental paradox. Iran, leads the statistics in the death penalty for drug traffickers. It is a very problematic situation, the fact is that Iran shares a very long border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, and over the last 35 years Iran’s war on drugs supported by Europe and the United States has resulted in 3,000 people dead among Iranian law enforcement agents. So they have paid a very high price in fighting drug trafficking but it hasn’t produced really substantial results. The flow of drugs from Afghanistan is toward Europe, toward the rich markets.
Under economic pressure, drug trafficking becomes one of the main sources of income, especially among populations that have been under very difficult economic situations for the past decade and Iran is certainly one of them. The eastern regions of Iran are very poor, very underdeveloped, and they’ve been paying a high price for the war on drugs. Cannabis is an indigenous drug to Iran. It has a name in Persian, Shahdaneh. Shah meaning King and daneh meaning seed. It means royal seed. Its traditional use is really in the cuisine, the dried leaves that you use in yogurt and things like that. Today, it is a really popular thing among young people because it is grown as anywhere in the world. But there is a slight difference in cultural terms. Weed is sort of a new thing. Historically, Iranians smoked hashish, they didn’t smoke weed. But in the past 10, 15 years, it’s become very popular, weed. So there is a trend toward smoking weed, which is also grown in Iran extensively. According to Iranian drug laws, cannabis cultivation is permitted but not for drug use.