Islam and Cannabis: Legalisation and religious debate in Iran

Iran is currently discussing cannabis and opium regulations, which could bring a legalisation of drug consumption through a state supervised system. The take on cannabis as seen and interpreted  by the religious authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The choice of Iran is justified for several reasons: firstly, Iran has a long history of drug use and cannabis has been part of the country’s intoxicant traditions since times immemorial; secondly, the Iranian state is unique in that it combines religious exegesis with political machination through official channels; finally, among all Middle East and Islamic countries, Iran is at the avant-garde in experimenting in the field of drugs policy which makes an excellent case for the study of cannabis regulation.

Iran’s leading Shi’a authorities, the maraje’-e taqlid, ‘source of emulation talked about the status of cannabis’ legality in Islam, its potential medical use, the feasibility of domestic production and other relevant aspects of its social-religious life.  Obviously members of the authorities gave different opinions and speculated on the possibility of  policy reform.

Given the dearth of scholarly work about illicit drugs in the Islamic world, about which many readers might not be familiar with, the article opens with an overview of the place of cannabis in the history of Islamic societies. It discusses terminological ambiguities, references in religious texts and traditions, and the general interpretations within Muslim religious schools of thought. Then, it discusses the status of cannabis in contemporary Iran before tackling the responses provided by the religious scholars. Eventually, the paper puts forward reflections about the potential implications for future policy developments on cannabis.

 

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