Drug trade overwhelms southern Syria amid government ignorance

DARAA/SUWAYDA, Syria (North Press) – “Why should not I use drugs and smoke hashish” since they are so cheap? with these words, Ayhem Suleiman justified smoking his first hashish cigarette.

Suleiman, 23, a pseudonym for a young man who graduated from the Industrial Institute, hails from Suwayda Governorate, south Syria.

Suleiman’s family lives off his father’s salary, which does not exceed $20.

Suleiman told North Press that his addiction to cigarette smoking led him to try hashish, “especially since it is very cheap and easy to come by,” to find “a sort of happiness,” which developed into an addiction.

Drugs dealers in south Syria seek to sell them cheaply in an attempt to overwhelm the region with narcotics, in order to make it easier to influence teenagers and youth.

The price of a kilogram of hashish or locally known as “a palm of hashish,” varies between 50.000-75.000 Syrian Pounds (SYP, equals $7-10), and a captagon pill costs only 500 SYP ($0.068).

“I can roll one thousand joints from a kilogram of hashish, which is cheaper than regular cigarettes,” the troubled young man said.

Suleiman denounces blaming only the youth for this. “No one talks about a country being turned into a captagon warehouse, and the dealers are protected and untouched as if they sell baby formula,” he added.

Article 39 of the Syrian Laws related to drugs states the death penalty for those who smuggle, manufacture narcotic substances, and grow or smuggle narcotic plants.

Free Zone

The geopolitical location and the security reality in Suwayda and Daraa Governorates in southern Syria turned them into a free zone for the drug business

After Syrian government forces took control of the southern areas of the country based on the settlement agreement of 2018, drugs smuggling has become on the rise along the border with Jordan via Suwayda and Daraa.

In July 2018, the opposition armed faction and government forces reached a ceasefire agreement mediated by Russia in the opposition-held areas in Daraa. Under the deal, the opposition armed factions agreed to hand over their heavy weapons in exchange for staying in Daraa, and those oppose the agreement would go to Idlib, which is under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

According to observers, one of the most prominent consequences of Russia-Ukraine war was opening the way for Iran and its allies to position on the border with Jordan, leading to an increase in the smuggling operation of captagon.

Asef Abu Latif, who has a Ph.D. in Comparative Study on Educational Management, believes that “narcotic substances have invaded our society and obliterated its security, leading to an increase in criminal incidents, suicide, murders and robberies.”

Addiction roots

The situation is not different in Daraa. Captagon drug factories are spreading in the villages and town of the governorate.

Khaled al-Zu’bi, a notable in the eastern countryside of Daraa, told North Press that the main reason for the increasing drug use by young people in the region is “the absence of a legal force to deter dealers, whose numbers rose significantly after 2018.”

The deteriorating economic situation “led many locals in Daraa to work in the narcotic business, which made it easy to reach large numbers of people,” al-Zu’bi said.

“The low prices of drugs” made it available for students, according to al-Zu’bi, since one narcotic pill costs 500 SYP, “making it accessible by students.”

He pointed the finger at security branches affiliated with the government forces that turn a blind eye to “drug trade, which is operated under the security officers’ noses or under the supervision of some of them.”

In December 2022, US President Joe Biden signed a bill to disrupt the drug trade and narcotics networks of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, colloquially known as the Captagon Act.

The signing of the act came after US Congress confirmed that the captagon trade linked to the Syrian “regime” is a “transnational security threat.”

On March 6, Jordan’s King Abdullah asked for greater American support against Iranian militias using Jordan as drug transfer hub.

In January, the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates announced a discussion with the Russian President’s Special Envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, about fighting increasing drug smuggling operations.

Reporting by Ihsan Muhammad and Razan Zeinaddin