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Adventures of Marijuana Jones - Kathy Hess


Dubai is hot. Hot and dusty.. Mainly hot. And damn if choosing Dubai as the first stop on my History of Cannabis Research tour of the Middle East wasn’t an eye opener to the level of distain some nations in this region hold for maryjane.

Dubai has a narcotic security scanner that travelers to Dubai, or even just traveling through, must walk across, and it has the ability to scan for traces of cannabis on your shoes.  Yes, even the tiniest of traces of cannabis on the soles of your shoes can get you jail time. I consider myself lucky to have traded the beaded sandals that adorned my feet during my recent travels through India.  The housekeeper who assisted me at the last hotel there had admired them with such passion, she was beside herself with joy when I insisted that she keep them, and would not let me leave without gifting me a cabochon jeweled hair comb I had admired previously. That little comb might have just saved my life, as I’m sure any drug testing performed on myself if the sandals had flagged me would have shown high traces of cannabis in my system after amounts of bhang I consumed.

Dubai is a police state and there is a zero tolerance policy to the usage of soft drugs is punishable by 4 years for possession and life terms with the possibility of death for cultivating and distributing. If you are merely suspect to possession or use of weed you will be given high priority as a threat and will be otherwise till proven innocent. The laws on soft drugs are the same throughout the UAE though in Sharjah you may be given a warning and be put on probation if you are caught without any weed but fail your drug test.

Yes, simply having weed in your system here in Dubai still constitutes towards possession. If they perform a drug test and find cannabis in your system (yes, even as a passenger on layover to another destination) it could mean an even longer sentence. Minimum is four years, and that’s just for testing positive. And considering the amount of travelers passing through the busiest international airport in the world, your travels to the ME might just have you passing through the gates here.



Did I mention how hot it is? It is only in recent times that a privileged few have found some respite from the heat through the miracle of air conditioning. The rest of the people are not so fortunate. They must endure temperatures that often soar to over 100 F. The excessive heat dictates that the people work only in the mornings and the evenings ("Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun").

The sun also dictates the kinds of animals and plants that will survive. The camel has adapted in a way that allows it to go without water for days. Our camel rides through the wadis of Oman completely changed my concept of “desert” and the possibilities of what can thrive there.
Similar to the camel, plants are able to survive by being able to retain their water. It is because of this capacity to minimize evaporation that plants such as cannabis are able to live in the parching Arabian heat.

The means by which cannabis accomplishes this amazing feat is by producing a thick, sticky resin that coats its leaves and flowers. This protective canopy prevents life-sustaining moisture from disappearing into the dry air.

But this thick stocky resin is not an ordinary goo. It is the stuff that dreams are made of, the stuff that holds time suspended in limbo, the stuff that makes men forgetful, makes them deliriously happy, makes them ravenously hungry or completely disinterested in food. It is a god to some and a devil to others. It is all of these things and more. This resin, this shield against the sun, this sticky goo... hashish.



The camel ride across the border was beautifully scenic, but it was the story telling by our fantastic guide Ashraf that revealed some of the history of the land via legends. According to Ashraf, little is known of the first Arab who discovered the marvelous properties of hashish. Yet one of his most colorful of stories tells how Haydar, the Persian founder of a religious order of Sufis, discovered hashish in A.D. 1155.

According to the legend, Haydar was an monk who lived a life of privation and self-chastisement in a monastery which he built in the mountains of Persia. For ten years he lived in this distant retreat, never leaving it for even a brief moment, seeing no one except his disciples.

One hot summer day, however, Haydar fell into a state of depression and wandered off into the fields to be alone. When he returned, his disciples, who had become alarmed at his unusual absence, noted a strange air of happiness and whimsy in his demeanor. Not only that, the hitherto reclusive monk even allowed them to enter his personal chambers, something he had never done before.

Astounded by this dramatic change in their master's character, his disciples eagerly questioned the monk about what it was that had put him into this frame of mind. Haydar responded to their curiosity with amusement and proceeded to tell them how he had been wandering in the fields and had noticed that of all the plants near the monastery, only one had not been standing motionless in the oppressive heat of the day. Unlike its torpid and inanimate neighbors, this unusual plant seemed to dance joyfully in the sun's warmth. Overwhelmed by curiosity, Haydar picked a few of its leaves and ate them to see what they would taste like. The result was the euphoric state his disciples now observed
in him.

Upon hearing of this wonderful plant and desirous of sharing their master's pleasure, Haydar's pupils entreated him to show them this strange plant so that they too could partake of its marvelous virtues. Haydar agreed, but not before he made them promise under oath that they would not reveal the secret of the plant to anyone but the Sufis (the poor). So it was, according to legend, which the Sufis came to know the pleasures and contentment of hashish.



I’m lucky to have gained access to the National Library of Jordan while I was in Amman. I was able to do a bit more research through old text, and surprised to find that Ashraf wasn’t too far off with his stories. The apocryphal oath by which Haydar entrusted his disciples not to reveal the secret of hashish to anyone but the Sufis underlies the close association between the drug and the Sufi movement in the Arab community.

The Sufis appear to be the hippies of the Arab world. Their origins were in Persia where they began as a group of ascetics who banded together to discuss religious topics and to recite the Koran aloud. Some of these bands eventually formed fraternities and established monasteries such as those founded by Haydar.

One of the ways the Sufis encouraged the attainment of these spiritual insights was through the arousal of ecstatic states. The most commonly way was through intoxication by means of drugs such as hashish. It was because of their frequent usage of hashish that the Sufis were credited both with the dissemination of the drug and with the downfall of Islamic society. For the Sufis, however, hashish was merely a means of stimulating mystical consciousness and appreciation of the nature of Allah. To the Sufi, a Moslem critic wrote, eating hashish is "an act of worship".

Since the Sufi had no interest in advancing himself in society or in economic gain, they were looked down upon by the Establishment in their respective eras as being lazy and worthless. In many cases, their behavior was attributed to the effects of hashish. Most Sufis were form the lower classes. One of the main reasons the Sufis chose hashish over other intoxicants like alcohol was that hashish was cheap.

Their heretical religious stance and their refusal to conform to the standards of Arab society combined to make the Sufis pariahs in the Arab world. And because hashish was so much a part of the Sufi's everyday life, it came to be looked upon as the cause of their unholy, contemptible, and disgusting behavior. By eliminating hashish, the Arab world felt it could rid itself of a loathsome drug habit that encouraged defiance, insubordination, and a general disregard for the status quo. While the efforts to eliminate hashish were often quite dramatic (I’m thankful to avoid Dubai from now on) all attempts proved futile.

I’m excited to have Ashraf by my side again for the next leg of my journey.  I’m looking forward to more of his informative stories on our way camel ride to Cairo Egypt.

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