It becomes the first Arab country to legalize cannabis for medical purposes
Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill that legalizes the cultivation of cannabis in Lebanon for medical and industrial purposes, as the country's hard-hit economy is on the brink of collapse.
The Lebanese parliament approved the bill in its Tuesday session, despite opposition from Hezbollah officials.
The move, which makes Lebanon the first Arab country to legalize cannabis cultivation, offers economic incentives to the indebted state. This makes the state the sole owner of the cannabis business, which has been cultivated illegally for decades in the Bekaa plains in the east of the country.
Hezbollah's allies in government, including representatives of President Michel Aoun and representatives of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, supported the decision.
A 2018 study by global firm McKinsey recommended the move as a way to revitalize the Lebanese economy. He estimated that it could generate up to $ 1 billion in revenue (3,67 billion dirhams) per year, Bloomberg reported.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime ranked Lebanon in 2018 among the world's top five producers of cannabis.
Firas Maksad, policy analyst and professor at George Washington University, said for the move to be successful, a lot would hinge on implementation.
"If it is regulated and taxed correctly, it is a clear advantage for Lebanon," Maksad told the National.
But this decision is a political reversal ...
“It is important to note that Lebanon spent several million dollars in foreign aid in the 90s to combat the cultivation of cannabis in the Bekaa,” Mr. Maksad said.
He said that Hezbollah's public opposition to the bill may have just been posture.
"Hezbollah has taken a principled stand against him given the Islamic credentials claimed by the party, but it has practically signaled to its allies that they can vote for the legislation," Maksad said.
The party has a strong presence in the Bekaa Valley, where most of the culture takes place.
Lebanon crossing since last year its worst economic crisis in 30 years, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and draconian containment measures. The deputies whose session is to last three days also approved a loan of 120 million dollars from the World Bank to help the health sector, including 40 million reallocated to the fight against covid-19.
Parliament's decision was "really motivated by economic reasons, nothing else," said Alain Aoun, a senior official of the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun. "We have moral and social reserves, but today it is necessary to help the economy by all means", he told Reuters.
This move will generate revenue for the government and develop the agricultural sector while legalizing a crop which, anyway, continues illegally, he said. "We don't want to speculate on the numbers… but let's say it's worth a try."