Lebanon’s Parliament is considering legalizing cannabis cultivation and production for medical use in order to provide a boost to the country’s economy. If legalization is approved, Lebanon would be the first majority-Muslim country in the world to legalize any aspect of the cannabis trade.
Political backing for legalizing cannabis gained momentum after McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm, sent the Lebanese government a 1000-page report in which it recommended legalizing cannabis to help Lebanon’s economy, which suffers from slow growth and increasing debt. McKinsey & Company believes that Lebanon’s clandestine cannabis farms may offer a quick fix. According to a 2016 report from the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, Lebanon is currently one of the top five producers of cannabis resin, or hash.
House Speaker Nabih Berri told reporters this month that McKinsey’s proposal included “establishing areas to grow cannabis for medical purposes, within a comprehensive legal, regulatory framework.” Since the start of the Syrian war, the UN Refugee Agency has estimated around one million documented Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Riad Salameh, the governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, said in 2015 that Syrian refugees directly cost $1 billion a year and indirectly cost $3.5 billion a year.
Currently, cannabis cultivation is illegal in the Bekaa Valley, which is considered one of the strongholds of the militant group Hezbollah. Although cannabis is illegal in Lebanon, cannabis farmers can earn up to 10 times more money growing cannabis than any other cash crop.
The Lebanese American University (LAU) launched the country’s first medicinal cannabis research center in May and preliminary research suggests that cannabis cultivation in the country could have different qualities to that grown elsewhere. Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury mentioned that Lebanon’s current illegal cannabis sector could fuel up to a $1 billion industry.