Bill intended for final vote in parliament could boost paralyzed Lebanese economy and curb illicit production
Beirut, Lebanon - The Lebanese Parliament should pass a law that would legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medical and industrial purposes in order to stimulate its paralyzed economy and curb the illicit production of the psychoactive plant.
The bill, which has been approved by parliamentary committees and is now moving towards a final vote, would only affect cannabis which contains less than 1% of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabidinol, or THC.
THC gives cannabis the recreational effects that have made it the most widely used illicit substance worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 147 million people, or 2,5% of the world's population, use cannabis.
Lebanon has been growing the plant for at least 100 years and produces large amounts of hashish, a sticky, fragrant derivative of the chocolate-like cannabis plant. Although illegal to produce, sell or use, it is widely available locally and is also exported illegally.
Lebanese hash is found in European capitals and constituted around 80% of the world supply during the country's civil war years (1975-90), when culture was at its peak.
Instead of dealing with this market, this bill would seek to create a new one involving types of cannabis plants that have not been traditionally cultivated in Lebanon.
MP Yassine Jaber, who chaired the subcommittee that drafted the law, said the bill was based on a 2019 report from the American consultancy McKinsey & Company, which recommended that Lebanon legalize the production of cannabis for “high added value medicines with export”. focus".
Shortly thereafter, the then Minister of Economy, Raed Khoury, said that a legal cannabis sector in Lebanon could generate $ 1 billion in revenue per year because the quality of Lebanese hashish was “the one of the best in the world ”.
"We have a competitive advantage and a comparative advantage in the cannabis sector," Jaber told Al Jazeera. “Our soil is among the best in the world for this, and the cost of production is low compared to other states.”
Regulate the market
Dozens of countries around the world have authorized research and production of medical cannabis in recent years, with studies repeatedly demonstrating the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids, a major chemical constituent of cannabis, for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in terminal illnesses such as cancer and AIDS.
The WHO says it has also shown therapeutic uses for "asthma and glaucoma, as an antidepressant, appetite stimulant, anticonvulsant and antispasmodic".
Other countries and regions have gone further and have legalized cannabis, including Uruguay, Georgia, South Africa, 10 American states and, more recently, Canada.
The bill is to establish a commission with regulatory authority that would issue licenses for everything from the importation of seeds and plants, to the creation of cannabis nurseries, to the planting and harvesting of the harvest, the manufacture of goods from it and the export of its derivatives.
Licenses can be granted to Lebanese pharmaceutical companies, industries authorized to create fibers, oils and industrial extracts and foreign companies that have a license to work in the cannabis industry from their country of origin.
In addition, licenses can be granted to specialized agricultural cooperatives established in Lebanon, to Lebanese citizens such as farmers or landowners, as well as to laboratories and research centers qualified to work with controlled substances.
One of the stated objectives of the bill is to reduce the pressure on the obstructed judicial and prison system in Lebanon as a result of organized crime involving the local cannabis trade.
But instead of decriminalizing the consumption of the plant or reducing the penalties, he called for "strengthening the criminal sanctions for violation of the articles of this law".
Between 3 and 000 people are arrested each year for drug-related crimes in Lebanon, the vast majority for the consumption of hashish, according to statistics from the Central Bureau to Combat Drugs.
The bill would also expressly prohibit anyone with a criminal record from acquiring a license to cultivate or work with the cultivation of cannabis in any way.
This would exclude tens of thousands of people who have served a sentence or hold outstanding drug warrants for the cultivation and use of cannabis, mainly in the fertile eastern region of the Bekaa Valley, where most of the crop is grown and processed.
This means that many farmers who have grown cannabis for generations would not be allowed to participate in the new legal sector.
"This law would legalize culture without taking into account the situation of people who use or produce drugs," Karim Nammour, a lawyer for the progressive NGO Legal Agenda specializing in drug policy, told Al Jazeera. drugs.
“This is a missed opportunity - they didn't take a holistic approach.”
Sandy Mteirik, head of drug policy development at Skoun, a Lebanese non-governmental organization focused on drug rehabilitation and advocacy, also criticized the decision.
"This is certainly not what the farmers of the Bekaa want," she told Al Jazeera. “There is no clear mechanism to integrate the existing illegal market into the legal market. You cannot just ignore the implications and consequences of the criminalization of drug use and say that this new market is the priority. ”
Big business, big business
Jaber said local farmers could benefit from the sector once a long-awaited amnesty bill was passed, eliminating the criminal record of cannabis producers and users, who he said should be considered “ victims".
Prime Minister Hassan Diab's government has pledged to approve an amnesty plan, which remains unclear.
Jaber said the bill was not intended to solve the problem of decriminalizing drug users. "One way or another, the state will have to deal with this because the prisons are full," he told Al Jazeera.
However, he predicted that the new legal cannabis market will move forward with or without the participation of those who have been criminalized by the illegal sector.
"I think big companies will come and other farmers will come and it will be a big company," he said.
But Nammour warned that the law would create a two-tier system where elites would benefit from cannabis production, while those who traditionally cultivated it in poor areas could not participate, and everyday Lebanese could not consume none of its products.
He also warned that the bill leaves the door open to endemic corruption in Lebanon. The commission responsible for overseeing the sector is funded by the licenses it issues, while at the same time it is supposed to regulate licenses and prevent a monopoly or oversupply on the market.
"The conflict of interest is clear," said Nammour.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS