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Lebanon to legalize medical and industrial cannabis cultivation

Bill, destined for final parliamentary vote, could boost Lebanon's crippled economy and curb illicit production

Beirut, Lebanon - The Lebanese Parliament is expected to pass a law that would legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medical and industrial purposes in order to stimulate its crippled economy and curb the illicit production of the psychoactive plant.

The bill, which was approved by parliamentary committees and now heads for a final vote, would only affect cannabis that contains less than 1% of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabidinol, or THC.

THC gives cannabis the recreational effects that have made it the most widely used illicit substance around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 147 million people, or 2,5% of the world's population, use cannabis.

Lebanon has cultivated the plant for at least 100 years and produces copious amounts of hashish, a sticky and fragrant derivative of the cannabis plant that resembles chocolate. Although illegal to produce, sell or use, it is widely available locally and is also exported illegally.

Lebanese hashish is found in European capitals and made up around 80% of the world's supply during the country's civil war years (1975-90), when culture was at its peak.

Instead of dealing with that market, this bill would seek to create a new one involving types of cannabis plants that have not traditionally been grown in Lebanon.

MP Yassine Jaber, who headed the subcommittee that drafted the law, said the bill was based on a 2019 report by the US consultancy firm McKinsey & Company which recommended that Lebanon legalize the production of cannabis for “high value-added drugs with export”. concentrate ”.

Shortly thereafter, then-economy minister Raed Khoury said that a legal cannabis sector in Lebanon could generate $ 1 billion in revenue per year because the quality of Lebanese hash was " one of the best in the world ”.

“We have a competitive advantage and a comparative advantage in the cannabis industry,” Jaber told Al Jazeera. “Our soil is among the best in the world for this, and the cost of production is low compared to other states. "

Regulate the market

Dozens of countries around the world have authorized research and production of medical cannabis in recent years, with studies repeatedly demonstrating the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids, a major chemical constituent of cannabis, for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in terminal illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.

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The WHO says it has also shown therapeutic uses for "asthma and glaucoma, as an antidepressant, appetite stimulant, anticonvulsant and antispasmodic."

Other countries and regions have gone further and legalized cannabis, including Uruguay, Georgia, South Africa, 10 states in the United States, and most recently Canada.

The bill is to create a commission with a regulatory authority that would issue licenses for everything from importing seeds and plants, to establishing cannabis nurseries, to planting and harvesting cannabis. harvesting, the manufacture of goods from it and the export of its derivatives.

Licenses can be granted to Lebanese pharmaceutical companies, industries authorized to create industrial fibers, oils and extracts, and foreign companies that are licensed to work in the cannabis industry from their home country.

In addition, licenses can be granted to specialized agricultural cooperatives established in Lebanon, Lebanese citizens such as farmers or landowners, as well as laboratories and research centers qualified to work with controlled substances.

"Missed opportunity"

One of the stated goals of the bill is to reduce the pressure on Lebanon's clogged justice and prison system resulting from organized crime involving the local cannabis trade.

But instead of decriminalizing the consumption of the plant or reducing the penalties, he calls for "strengthening the criminal penalties in case of violation of the articles of this law".

Between 3 and 000 people are arrested each year for drug-related crimes in Lebanon, the vast majority for the consumption of hashish, according to statistics from the Central Bureau to Combat Drugs.

The bill would also expressly prohibit anyone with a criminal record from acquiring a license to cultivate or work with cultivating cannabis in any way.

This would thus exclude tens of thousands of people who have served time or have outstanding drug warrants for the cultivation and use of cannabis, mainly in the fertile region of the eastern Bekaa Valley, where most of the crop is grown and processed.

This means that many farmers who have grown cannabis for generations would not be allowed to participate in the new legal sector.

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"This law would legalize culture regardless of the situation of people who use drugs or those who produce them," Karim Nammour, a lawyer for the progressive NGO Legal Agenda, who specializes in drug policy, told Al Jazeera. drugs.

“It's a missed opportunity - they haven't taken a holistic approach. "

Sandy Mteirik, head of drug policy development at Skoun, a Lebanese non-governmental organization focused on drug rehabilitation and advocacy, also criticized the decision.  

“This is certainly not what the farmers in the Bekaa want,” she told Al Jazeera. “There is no clear mechanism to integrate the existing illegal market into the legal market. You cannot just ignore the implications and consequences of criminalizing drug use and say that this new market is the priority. "

Big business, big business

Jaber said local farmers could benefit from the sector once a long-awaited amnesty bill is passed, removing the criminal records of cannabis producers and users, who he said should be considered " victims ".

The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab has pledged to approve an amnesty project, but which remains unclear.

Jaber said the bill was not intended to address the problem of decriminalizing drug users. "One way or another, the state will have to deal with this because the prisons are full," he told Al Jazeera.

However, he predicted that the new legal cannabis market will move forward with or without the participation of those who have been criminalized by the illegal sector.

“I think big business will come and other farmers will come and it will be a big business,” he said.

But Nammour warned the law would create a two-tier system where elites benefit from cannabis production, while those who have traditionally cultivated it in poor areas will not be able to participate, and everyday Lebanese will not be able to participate. consume any of its products.

He also warned that the bill left the door open to endemic corruption in Lebanon. The commission charged with overseeing the sector is funded by the licenses it issues, while at the same time it is supposed to regulate licenses and prevent a monopoly or oversupply in the market.

“The conflict of interest is clear,” Nammour said.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS


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