The Lebanese parliament voted to legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medical and industrial use making Lebanon the first Arab country to do so.
The law regarding the infamous plant, which has a great variety of uses such as pharmaceutical, wellness and textile products, passed last April.
The conversation toward legitimizing the farming of cannabis was growing for years in the Mediterranean country, but was pushed in the forefront recently, because of the current economic crisis.
Lebanon suffers from the worst financial and economic disaster in its history, which some officials believe cannabis can help relieve.
Alain Aoun, a senior MP in the Free Patriotic Movement told Reuters “we have moral and social reservations but today there is the need to help the economy by any means”.
According to a report by Ameri Research Inc., the global legal cannabis market was valued at $14.3 billion in 2016 and is forecast to grow to $63.5 billion by 2024.
The market is witnessing an expansional growth mainly due to the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis products worldwide.
Lebanon is the third-largest supplier of cannabis resin, also known as “hashish”, after Morocco and Afghanistan, according to the UN. The plant, which is known to be farmed illegally in the country’s Bekaa Valley, represents a clear opportunity for profit by exporting the crop internationally in an attempt to revitalize the country’s already crippled economy.
Yet, despite all the benefits of economic potential the pro-cannabis law officials have boasted, many expressed their concerns, linked mainly to the lack of confidence in the state’s ability to impose the necessary measures to restrict the legislation to medical ends. There is also the issue of rampant corruption in Lebanon.
Many of the reluctant to give full endorsement to the law fear that any benefit from the legislation will be limited to a small number of people, instead of seeing a trickle down effect from the hashish revenues to the entire population.
In addition, the new law did not decriminalize consumption of the plant or reduce sentences, with all recreational production and use remaining illegal.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people are arrested for drug crimes each year in Lebanon, the vast majority for the consumption of hashish, according to statistics from the Central Drug Enforcement Office.