Lost in Translation: The Difference Between 'Hemp' and 'Hash' Could Be the Difference Between Life and Death


The Drug War Chronicle reports that one of the prisoners freed during the recent unrest in Egypt was Mostafa Soliman, a dual American/Egyptian citizen who was arrested on drug trafficking charges and faces a possible death sentence because there is no Arabic word for hemp. In December a shipment of nonpsychoactive hemp seed oil that Soliman was importing into Egypt for his company Health Harvest attracted official attention because "authorities translated 'hemp oil' as 'hash oil,' and that's when Soliman's life took a Kafkaesque turn." In Arabic, the Chronicle says, "any concoction from the cannabis plant, whether high THC or low THC, is simply called cannabis." In a telephone interview, Soliman told the Chronicle that "even the Egyptian drug enforcement people told me they knew it wasn't hash oil, but they said they had to follow procedure."

Soliman initially was held at a Cairo police station, then in a maximum-security prison, where he shared an eight-foot-by-eight-foot cell with up to 30 people at a time, including thieves, rapists, and murderers. After a few weeks there, he was granted bail, but before the process could be completed a mob attacked the prison and freed him, along with all the other inmates. Since then Soliman has been trying to clarify the hemp/marijuana distinction on which his liberty (and possibly his life) depends. He has not gotten much help from the U.S. Embassy, which has declined to replace the American passport that the Egyptian authorities confiscated or assist him in translating documents that would demonstrate his innocence. The U.S. hemp industry is trying to rally support for Soliman, who was temporarily freed by the recent turmoil but may also be overlooked because of it. Eric Steenstra, executive director of the Hemp Industries Association, tells the Chronicle:

Our campaign to free Mostafa Soliman will hopefully jump-start action at the U.S. State Department. We recognize that the unrest in Egypt will make it more difficult for U.S. authorities to act, but this terrible mistake by Egyptian authorities was made well before the recent protests began and in many ways symbolizes the corruption the protesters are resisting.