Lebanon is officially the first country in the populous Arab region to legalize cannabis. Lebanese leadership hopes exporting medical marijuana can revive its struggling economy.
3 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Lebanon became the first Arab country to legalize cannabis nationwide, allowing for the cultivation and export of marijuana for medical use. By legalizing the valuable crop, the country’s leaders hope to slow an economic slide caused by the coronavirus epidemic.
To get the system up and running, however, Lebanese officials must overcome opposition from Hezbollah and distrust of the government by cannabis farmers.
Until the decision in late April by the Lebanese parliament, the country had banned the growth, sale, and consumption of marijuana. However, cannabis has been “widely and openly cultivated in Lebanon, particularly in the country’s eastern Bekaa Valley,” according to Newsweek.
The new law legalized cannabis for “medicinal and industrial” purposes. In practice, this means Lebanese companies can grow cannabis to export for use in medicine and for products such as textile fibers. The new law provides the framework for producing cannabis wellness products and CBD oil in Lebanon.
Legalization faces a big issue, though: Hezbollah is opposed.
Hezbollah, the Shiite Islamic Lebanese political party, opposes the measure, according to numerous reports. This could present roadblocks to implementing the program because of the party’s wide following in Lebanon.
Hilal Khashan, a professor of political studies and public administration at the American University of Beirut, told Newsweek he is skeptical the country can implement the law given the opposition from Hezbollah. Khashan said that Hezbollah benefits from the current marijuana market and would need to be “directly involved in its implementation—i.e., get its share from it.”
Still, if some type of compromise can be reached, the country stands to gain. Consultants McKinsey & Co. estimated in 2018 that Lebanon could bring in about $1 billion annually from legal marijuana exports.
Lebanon wants to bolster the economy, bring cannabis out of the black market.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Lebanon is one of the world’s top five producers of cannabis, according to the Arab News. But bringing the industry out of the black market and creating a regulated, legal industry could have a significant, positive impact.
The country currently has one of the highest debt-to-income ratios in the Middle East.
However, making the change won’t prove easy. Dr. Nasser Saidi told Arab News that the illegal cannabis crop has helped the Bekaa Valley, one of the poorest regions in the country, to survive. “For the more traditional crops like potatoes, beetroot, olives, and others, there is a lot of competition,” he said, “whereas for hashish there is much less competition.”
Legalizing the crop and exporting it could build the country’s reputation as one of the foremost suppliers of cannabis. However, leaders must address Hezbollah’s opposition as well as distrust of the government.
Saidi said that some marijuana growers fear that if their industry comes under the control of the government, it could become open to “abuse, corruption, and clientelism.”