Heated debate has ensued since the Cigarettes Dealers Association submitted an official request to legalize hash.
Fierce criticism of Osama Salama, chairman of the association and sponsor of the campaign, is paralleled with strong support for the initiative.
While the first camp views calls for legalization as implicit encouragement of addiction, the second stresses the financial benefits of such a move, especially in light of the high rates of consumption among Egyptians.
Salama says his request is purely pragmatic: “Hash is already widely consumed in Egypt. We might as well make it legal.”
He says the state will save billions annually if hash becomes legal.
“According to reports, dealing in hash yields a huge annual profit that ranges from 40 to 45 billion Egyptian pounds [$5.25 - $5.90 billion],” he said.
“The state wastes a lot of money in combating drugs and only manages to confiscate 15 percent of the quantity, while the remaining 85 percent is smuggled into the country anyway.”
Salama says taxing the trade would raise a lot of money and the economy “is bound to prosper.”
He rejected concerns about increased hash consumption if his request is granted: “People like whatever is prohibited, but when the prohibited is legalized consumption drops.”
Salama refrained from engaging in legal and religious debates about the issue: “We want what’s in Egypt’s interest at the end of the day.”
Security expert General Refaat Abdel Hamid accuses Salama of threatening Egypt’s national security: “Israel used drugs rather than weapons to destabilize Egypt, and this is what Salama is doing now.”
Abdel Hamid said he filed a complaint with the interior minister, asking for Salama’s arrest for “spreading chaos.”
Security expert Sameh Lotfi also slammed the initiative: “Will the Cigarettes Dealers Association agree to take responsibility for all crimes committed by hash consumers?”
Lotfi says the Interior Ministry is doing a very good job against drug consumption: “Now we can see how difficult it is to get drugs like Tramadol, and this means the ministry has managed to eliminate it from the market.”
Journalist Mohamed Abdel Raouf scoffed at Salama’s claim that 45 million Egyptians already smoke hash: “Well, if half the population smokes hash, then maybe we should replace quality education with free hash. What an out-of-the-box solution to our problems after two revolutions!”
Activist Seif al-Azzazi filed a complaint against Salama with the prosecutor general, accusing him of “committing a crime against the law, the state, and the people.”
Hani al-Nazer, former head of the National Center for Research, accused Salama of committing “a full-fledged crime” by encouraging an increase in the number of “mentally and psychologically disturbed addicts.”
Effects of hash
Psychiatrist Magdi Ibrahim Hussein, who has done extensive research on addiction, warns of a “disaster” if hash is legalized: “When consumed in small quantities, hash can lift the consumer’s spirits, but when the quantities increase, it can cause hallucinations similar to those triggered by LSD in addition to memory disorders, lack of empathy, distorted perception, and aggression.”
Hash consumption, added Hussein, also causes heart palpitations, cornea inflammation, mouth and throat dryness, nausea and respiratory system inflammation. “Addiction is also responsible for a wide range of crimes, particularly rape, and road accidents. This is basically because narcotics make people impulsive and violent as well as incapable of exercising self-restraint.”
Hussein refutes Salama’s statements about the economic benefits of legalizing hash: “Hash induces depression, lethargy, and apathy. How can people suffering from such symptoms be able to work? What kind of profit is expected to be made when people stop going to work or are unable to work conscientiously?”
Osama al-Ghazali Harb, an activist and member of the Free Egyptians Party, criticized the way Salama was being treated like a criminal: “Salama’s argument is very logical, objective, and worth studying. He simply argued that since the war against hash has so far been lost, then we might as well legalize it. This is done in several countries like The Netherlands, Norway, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and Argentina.”
Harb pointed to the popularity of hash among Egyptians of all social backgrounds, and the state’s failure to eliminate it: “There are two ways of dealing with anything considered uncommon in a given society: prohibition or legalization under regulations. This will not lead to increased consumption as some claim. Take alcohol for example; it is legal yet not more than 2 percent of the Egyptian population consumes it.”
Business tycoon Naguib Sawiris wrote an article entitled “How the Egyptian government can make billions with 10 resolutions,” and one of his suggestions was legalizing hash: “This is an idea many might not approve, but that is applied in several developed countries. Think of the customs and taxes that will be imposed on the hash trade.”
The Egyptian independent daily Al-Masri al-Youm ran a report on the benefits of consuming hash, based on a German study. “According to the study, smoking hash is less dangerous than consuming processed narcotics like heroin and cocaine and even less dangerous than alcohol. Researchers, in fact, argue that hash helps its consumers to go on with their lives while other drugs can cost them their jobs or totally destroy their lives.”
According to a survey conducted by the newspaper about the proposal, 48 percent support legalizing hash while 47 percent oppose it.
“This result shows one of two things,” said the paper. “Either Egyptians are really serious about supporting the legalization of hash or this reflects a state of dark comedy that is currently prevailing in the Egyptian society.”