Marijuana Use Rises in Iran, With Little Interference
TEHRAN — At the Tehran party there was alcohol, of course, though it was a quiet affair, nothing like the wild, over-the-top events of urban legend. People just sat at a table, sipping drinks and talking as they would in many places across the world. After a while, someone made a phone call, and a few minutes later the doorbell rang and in walked a nondescript-looking man getting on in years.
He worked quickly, opening his briefcase to put his goods on display — an impressive variety of locally produced marijuana brands with varying degrees of potency, with names such as Royal Queen, DNA and Nirvana. All the while, his phone kept ringing, and though Iranian etiquette prescribes that he allow the partygoers to take their time in choosing, he kept discreetly checking his watch. He had a lot of other stops to make.
Iran is notorious for its harsh code of conduct enforced by an extensive intelligence apparatus, and it has waged a long and painful war on heroin and opium trafficking, with security forces dying by the thousands over the past two decades in fights with Afghan cartels.
But the same government that executes hundreds of drug dealers every year — and cracks down periodically on alcohol, which is also illegal — seems curiously oblivious to the growing popularity of marijuana.
The government opened 150 alcohol treatment centers in 2015, and the Health Ministry is deeply involved in combating hard drugs like heroin. But marijuana is mentioned only vaguely in the Islamic penal code, and the police pay it little heed. While the penalty for alcohol consumption is theoretically 99 lashes — most people get off with a fine — there are no prison sentences or lashings prescribed for people found carrying small amounts of pot.
As a result, marijuana use has skyrocketed. Gol, or flower, as marijuana is called here, can be found everywhere in and around the capital. The skunky smell of marijuana smoke wafts through restaurants in the ski resorts of Dizin and Shemshak. In the winter months, young skiers and snowboarders can be seen casually rolling joints while riding the chairlift up the mountain.
The aroma is routinely detected in Tehran’s public spaces. “When you stroll through one of Tehran’s parks, you can sometimes smell it, even on streets and squares,” said Taba Fajrak, 27, who works as a choreographer. “Once, I even smelled it in a cafe.”
In college dormitories, students use it to relax or concentrate, and during parties in private houses joints are passed around as comfortably as they might be in Boulder, Colo., or Amsterdam. Dealers are just a phone call away, and as common as the people who sell illicit DVDs or alcoholic drinks.
Iran does not keep official statistics on marijuana use. But anecdotal evidence and figures from rehabilitation clinics indicate that pot smoking is widespread in Iranian cities. Hossein Katbaei, the director of one such clinic, Camp Jordan, said the number of patients his staff was treating for marijuana abuse had quadrupled over the last five years.
Mr. Katbaei, a former truck driver with a long ponytail, and other addiction experts say young Iranians often become caught up in a vicious cycle. With widespread unemployment and forbiddingly high house prices, many young adults are forced to live at home, leading to lives of isolation and depression that they seek to escape through marijuana.
Marijuana is internationally often viewed as a nonaddictive drug. But those using it frequently can become dependent on it. According to the United States’ National Institute of Drug Abuse, teenagers using marijuana are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana disorders. In severe cases, the institute says, this can lead to addiction.
Iranian experts point out that a growing percentage of marijuana produced inside the country is laced with other drugs. Also, most seeds are smuggled in from Amsterdam, and many are genetically enhanced to produce more strength.
With the rise in marijuana use, the patients in Mr. Katbaei’s clinic have changed.
“They are from middle-class families, often reasonably well off,” said Youssef Najafi, a former drug addict who is now a counselor at the clinic. “They feel useless. Live at home. Their future is one big unknown. Some years ago we would only have a couple. At first they think it is harmless, but those who use it too much get depressed and ultimately psychotic.”
Few older Iranians, whether health officials or parents, know much about marijuana or its effects, Mr. Najafi said. There is no government effort to inform people about the effects of marijuana use. In 2013, the current head of the police, Ali Moayedi, told state media that marijuana did not exist in Iran.
But during a counseling session at the camp, marijuana was very much on the top of the list of what most patients had been using while they were out. “Here in Iran at least, marijuana is really a gateway drug,” Mr. Najafi said
It has the excitement of being technically illegal, he said, and lowers the bar for other drugs. “Methadone is freely available here, and a lot of the marijuana on the market is dipped in methadone, making joints much heavier.”
Young Iranians tend to have a different take, not surprisingly, many regarding marijuana simply as a relatively new drug among a wide universe of forbidden pleasures. However, the difference from other substances that they might use is that pot for many is often smoked all through the day.
At 11 one morning, an unemployed 25-year-old man, Abdi, lit up a joint, the first one of the day, and recalled the nicknames of his friends with whom he used to smoke pot. There were “Mohammad Dog-Balls,” who would buy the stuff; “Samy Detroit,” who had lived in the United States; and Kiarash the cross-dresser, who was confused anyway. They were 17.
He said they had started with pot, then moved on to stronger drugs. He then launched into a long and complicated diatribe about the influence of Instagram on youths, inequality in Tehran and the need to forget everything.
His father had lost everything in a business deal that soured — the house, his job and his wife, the young man said. He, his father and brother lived in his father’s former office. Selling marijuana, for around $7 a gram, provided a bit of extra income. Basically he was bored like many others, he said, with no work and no future. Pot, he said, brings some relief.
At Camp Jordan, Mr. Katbaei, the director, said he knew how determined addicts could be, having used all sorts of substances himself over the past two decades. Now clean, he was running a tight ship, continually eyeing a plasma television where the clinic’s network of closed-circuit television cameras are monitored.
Mr. Katbaei said he wanted the expertise and funding of the United Nations. “This is a very serious problem, it is everywhere,” he said.
The holy month of Ramadan presents a special problem, given marijuana’s well-known effect on appetites. “I am a practicing Muslim and keep my fast during Ramadan,” said Akhbar Kohpaye, 57, a wholesale egg dealer. “But I am worried for my two unmarried sons who might be under the influence of those using marijuana.”
In the clinic counseling session, a new patient whispered in an interview that he was doing fine. He fidgeted with his hands, seemingly not knowing where to put them. He protested that he was not an addict, and said he did not think it was a big problem that he liked to smoke pot all day, every day.
In the back of the room, Mr. Katbaei shook his head. “Curing him will take time,” he murmured.
The same government that executes hundreds of drug dealers every year seems curiously oblivious to the growing popularity of marijuana.
The code of conduct in Iran is notorious for its harsh measures (re: whip lashes for alcohol consumption) and has waged a war against drug trafficking so most locals are now turning to cannabis as an easy way to obtain and enjoy the least penalized drug of choice. MERRY JANE has put together some interesting facts about marijuana use in Iran:
Marijuana Possession in Iran
While alcohol is illegal in Iran with a penalty of 99 lashes, most people get off with a fine. Marijuana on the other hand carries no penalty for carrying small amounts, which has fueled the sales of, “Gol”, the term used for marijuana in Iran. The abundant smell of marijuana now lingers throughout Iran’s capital of Tehran where one local describes how he smelled it inside a café once.
Where the Gol is Coming From
Most seeds are smuggled in from Amsterdam with many of them being genetically enhanced to produce stronger cannabis. Local dealers are just a phone call away and as common as people who sell illicit DVDs or alcoholic drinks. Smoking cannabis in Iran is fairly common from college students to local party-goers, and is usually preferred over alcohol.
What types of strains are available?
With seeds imported from Amsterdam you’ll likely find the same strains in Iran with one dealer’s menu consisting of strains called Royal Queen, DNA, and Nirvana. Most strains can be found year-round, and locals see it skyrocket during the winter months where young skiers and snowboarders can be seen casually rolling joints riding the chairlift up the mountain.
Marijuana use rises in Iran with little government interference.