On April 21st, 2020, the parliament of Lebanon, the largest drug producer in the world after Afghanistan and Morocco, approved for the first time in its history the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes. This was reported by the Lebanese media, citing the results of the parliamentary session held in Beirut in the last few hours in a temporary location due to the measures for Covid-19.
Medical cannabis legalization has been on the table in Lebanon for years. In 2018, the former Caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade, Raed Khoury, reviewed a report by the consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. and acknowledged the potential benefits that Lebanon could have yielded from some form of cannabis legalization. He also added, in an interview with Bloomberg News, that Lebanon’s cannabis is a world-renowned ‘brand’, synonym of the highest quality. Thus, he argued, cannabis legalization in Lebanon would have definitely had the potential to heal the country’s economy. At the time of introducing cannabis legalization in the political debate, Lebanon was the third most indebted country in the world.
The new law would regulate marijuana growing inside the country. Although the plant has been extensively and openly cultivated in Lebanon for centuries, particularly in the Bekaa Valley, cannabis farming had always remained illegal. This reform does not make cannabis legal for recreational use. Rather, its supposed to grant permission for marijuana cultivation with export, medicinal and industrial purposes. Moreover, within this new legal framework, Lebanon aims to promote a new legal industry manufacturing cannabis-based pharmaceutical products, like for example CBD oil or topicals, and industrial goods, such as fibres for textiles.
The medical cannabis legalisation bill was presented by The president of the Lower House Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite party Amal, an ally of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah. However, it found vehement opposers in the Parliament, including, ironically enough, Hezbollah. Besides a Lebanese political party, Hezbollah is also a paramilitary organization, which happens to practically controls large areas of the Bekaa valley, notoriously the Lebanese home of illicit cannabis cultivation. According to the party, the legalization of Indian hemp would not be “economically feasible”.
Various Lebanese journalists and academics have voiced their concern in regards to Hezbollah’s opposition to the passing of this bill. On the one hand, given the organization’s presence in the Bekaa area, it is not difficult to imagine that Hezbollah could be directly profiting from the illicit cannabis trade. On the other, given the party’s relevance in the Lebanese Parliament, observers worry about the feasibility of an actual implementation of this law. Professor Hilal Khashan, in an interview with Newsweek, argued that most likely the bill will not see actual life, unless it were to directly benefit Hezbollah.
The law received endorsement by parliamentary committees in March. However, activists have raised concerns about it, advocating also for decriminalizing recreational marijuana use. A separate legislation, which would provide amnesty to a large portion of recreational cannabis and drug offenders, while also reducing other sentences, was sent back to a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, April 21st 2020, for further reviewing.