Lebanon has become the first Arab country to legalise cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes, after the country's parliament approved the law yesterday.
The new legislation, first endorsed by parliamentary committees in March, aims to regulate cultivation by Lebanon's cannabis farmers, considered illegal under current laws but which has been grown illicitly for decades in the country's eastern Bekaa Valley.
Last month, Lebanese police reported intercepting 25 tonnes of hashish travelling through the port of Beirut to an African country. Officials said the cargo was part of the largest drug smuggling operation in Lebanese history.
Now, however, though export of hashish for recreational use remains illegal, Lebanon is set to establish a new above-board industry producing medicinal cannabis products, including Cannabidiol (CBD oil). The harvest could also be used to make industrial commodities, such as fibres for textiles.
As Lebanon's economy teeters on the brink of collapse, the creation of a new industry, and manufacture of products for export, could provide much needed economic stimulus.
Alain Aoun, a senior MP in the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founded by current President Michel Aoun, told Reuters that parliament's decision was "really driven by economic motives, nothing else".
Adding: "We have moral and social reservations but today there is the need to help the economy by any means… we don't want to speculate on numbers… but let's say it is worth a try."
The move was initially recommended as a method of revitalising Lebanon's debt-ridden economy by US consultancy firm McKinsey in 2018. A study by the company estimated legalisation of Lebanon's cannabis industry could be worth as much as $4 billion.
Under the new legislation, an official authority, which will fall under the jurisdiction of the presidency of the Cabinet, will oversee the enforcement of the law. The authority will issue permits for the cultivation, transport, production, store, trade and distribution of cannabis. Only permit holders will be able to work under the new law.
The proposed regulation of the industry, however, has drawn criticism, with many concerned the system leaves room for corruption since the source of funding for the authority will not come from the government budget, but from permit fees, which could create a conflict of interest.
Other concerns, raised by those opposed to the bill, include fears the new legislation should include a change to punishments for recreational cannabis users, as such use remains illegal under Lebanese law. Activists have in the past recommended rehabilitation programmes in lieu of punishment.