Lebanon has become the first country in the Middle East region to legalize medical cannabis and industrial hemp.
Despite votes against the Shiite Islamic party Hezbollah, the Lebanese Parliament approved the bill on the legalization of medical cannabis and industrial hemp on 21st April 2020.
The Lebanese government will set up a commission to regulate and issue licenses for the import of seeds and cannabis cuttings to create crops and nurseries. However, recreational cannabis will remain illegal.
The parliamentary procedure to legalize medical cannabis and industrial hemp began in March 2020, when parliamentary committees approved a draft bill introduced in 2018 regarding legalization.
The proposal consisted of the cultivation of cannabis with a THC level below 1% for industrial and medical purposes.
As well as for licensing import of cannabis seeds, the cannabis legalization proposal established a regulatory commission entitled to issue licenses for Lebanese pharmaceutical companies, industries authorized to create industrial fibers, oils, and extracts, and foreign companies that have a license to work in the cannabis industry in their countries of origin.
The idea to legalize industrial hemp and medical cannabis in Lebanon is the result of a feasibility study to overcome the country’s economic crisis, which worsened in 2019. Cannabis cultivation in Lebanon could generate about $1 billion a year, according to this study launched following a Council of Ministers’ decree in October 2017.
The study also explains that the agricultural sector should focus on the creation of an ad hoc regulation for industrial hemp. Regarding medical cannabis instead, the Lebanese government should find locations to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes and meant to be exported.
Medical cannabis and industrial hemp legalization are among other economic measures to get out of an unprecedented economic crisis. Corruption, high youth unemployment, lack of exporting, dependence on importing, and devaluation of the local currency, and the financial crisis are among the main causes of the Lebanese economic crisis.
The legalization of medical cannabis and industrial hemp could make Lebanon a strategic country in this sector, as it is the first country to legalize in the Middle East. However, this reform alone will not be enough to put the country’s economy back on track, although it is an important step forward for Lebanon.
Although medical cannabis and industrial hemp legalization have put in place, some criticize the new law for decriminalizing consumption of the plant or reducing sentences as recreational cannabis has not been regulated.
Lebanon has a long history with cannabis as it is the third largest hashish exporter in the world, following Morocco and Afghanistan. Lebanon’s hashish is considered the highest quality of hashish in the world. The hashish expert Frenchy Cannoli wrote that The Red Lebanese is to this day one of the best hashish he has smoked as he had no real memory of the potency of the resin. Its flavor was so intense and unique that the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and earthy was impossible to describe or forget.
Before 1991, cultivation was tolerated in the country, but after 1991, the government cracked down on hashish production and fought back with strict enforcement laws. Between 3000 and 4000 people are arrested for drug crimes each year in Lebanon, according to statistics from the Central Drug Enforcement Office.
The Bekaa Valley is the capital of Lebanese hashish, where many farmers cultivate cannabis crops illegally for years. As the new cannabis law entitles only pharmaceutical companies and authorized industries to produce medical cannabis and industrial hemp, experts criticized the government for losing the opportunity to regulate those expert farmers and let them benefit from this newly emerging sector. One of the reasons behind such a decision is that the Lebanese government wanted to legalize cannabis only for economic purposes, and not to benefit Lebanese farmers.
Regarding the potentiality of exporting medical cannabis, some were puzzled by this project because there are a few chances to enter into the medical cannabis market, due to little demand at the moment.
However, nobody can have a clue about how medical cannabis and industrial hemp legalization will work in practice at the moment. The Lebanese government didn’t take any action to set up a strategy on how to create a cannabis business at the national scale.
The current situation in Lebanon is stagnant, and its economic crisis seems not to be slowing down. Furthermore, Beirut’s port explosion on 4th August worsened discontent among the population, which reflects in the accusation of corruption against the government.
Legalizing medical cannabis and industrial hemp without regulating recreational marijuana and avoiding to include Lebanese cannabis farmers could turn against the aims of the government to benefit financially from cannabis.
The Lebanese hashish production is well-established in this Middle East country, and the government didn’t do anything to put this know-how in the center of this cannabis regulation and to legalize these farmers. Furthermore, the current government seems to not be willing to intervene in this sector at the moment as it has to deal with a national emergency due to the economic crisis and Beirut explosion, as well as with the coronavirus outbreak.
But Lebanon has a very interesting potential to become a cannabis hub in the region, thanks to its know-how and a long history with hashish production, which can be seen as an advantage when it is exported abroad.
Published and Written by Dario Sabaghi in Weed World Magazine Issue 148