Cannabis in Lebanon remains illegal in all its forms; however, the country's ideal climate and the nearby war in Syria has made its cultivation an attractive crop for farmers and a low priority for law enforcement.
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In recent years, Lebanon has established itself as one of the top five cannabis producers according to a report in 2016 by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crimes (UNODC) echoing the cannabis rush that the country experienced during its almost two-decade civil war in the 1970's.
Although calls for legalization have been made since at least 2014, it is only now that Lebanon's parliament is considering legalizing cannabis cultivation for medical purposes in an attempt to boost the ailing economy.
This step comes after a proposal report commissioned to study viable economic solutions by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. McKinsey has studied numerous initiatives, and cannabis legalization is one of them. The recommendations handed over to the Lebanese government detailed the economic benefits of legalizing medical cannabis but did not address many of the underlying issues.
The decision to recruit external help came in the wake of increasingly dire predictions about the country's financial situation. Lebanon is one of the most indebted nations in the world, and the economic growth has dropped from 9% before the conflict in Syria to around 2% today.
Current Cultivation Status in Lebanon
The Bekaa Valley located in Eastern Lebanon is one of its poorest regions and is the center of illicit cannabis cultivation. The Bekaa Valley has over the years gained a notorious reputation as one of the most dangerous zones in Lebanon. Affluent groups dominate the cannabis production in this region and are armed and willing to preserve their livelihoods.
However, this may soon change if Lebanon's fragmented parliament can push the legalization bill forward and open the country's cannabis farms to international markets. It is still unclear if McKinsey's recommend the government to work with established farmers or to develop an entirely new industry.
The proposition to legalize cannabis caught more attention after being endorsed by parliament members and government officials; Lebanon's economy minister Raed Khoury claims Lebanon to have the best quality of cannabis in the world and estimates the industry in Lebanon is worth 1 billion US dollars.
The Future of Medical Cannabis
Paula Yacoubian, a member of parliament in Lebanon, said in an interview that she hopes, that the Lebanese citizens, farmers, and the national economy benefits from the legalization. She goes on to explain that the promising potential of legalizing cannabis is well known in Lebanon and the world already, and the uses of CBD in the health sector are well established. Research suggests that CBD can be effective in many neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's. Many cannabis-derived products for both health and cosmetic uses are already being sold in places like Europe and the US.
Time will reveal whether Lebanon will be the first Asian country to legalize cannabis for medicinal use, but it must first advance through the rigorous and lengthy process of committee meetings and bureaucratic paperwork.