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Lebanon Legalizes Medical Cannabis Cultivation

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Apr 24, 2020   
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On Tuesday, April 21, after a vote in its parliament, Lebanon became the first a Middle Eastern country to legalize cannabis cultivation for medical and industrial purposes.

Although cannabis has a long history of being openly cultivated in some regions of Lebanon, the practice was still strictly prohibited.

Under the new laws, cannabis cultivation by farmers will be regulated by the Lebanese government for export for medicinal and industrial purposes. Lebanon is also aiming to create a new legal cannabis pharmaceuticals industry, which could include CBD oils and various wellness products.

The economic promise of cannabis

Legalizing cannabis was highly recommended by the nation’s economic advisors before the coronavirus pandemic added to the global economic unrest.

Lebanon is the third-most indebted country in the world, and the country’s Finance Ministry announced in March that Lebanon had defaulted on a debt repayment of US$1.2 billion.

Before the cannabis vote took place, deputy parliament speaker Elie Ferzli told Al-Monitor that “the global consultancy firm McKinsey [& Co.] suggested, in a study about setting a vision for Lebanon’s economy to grow its GDP and create jobs through selecting productive sectors, that legalizing the cultivation of cannabis would bring in up to $1 billion per year in revenue for the government.”

Lebanon is already one of the world’s top five producers of hashish, though Ferzli maintained that, “the type of plant that Lebanon seeks to cultivate is… specific to medical industries.” He stressed that “the Lebanese state does not accept the use of hashish as a resource to support the economy.”

Lebanon’s new laws

The new cultivation law only applies to cannabis that contains less than one percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which Al Jazeera pointed out isn’t the type of cannabis that has traditionally been cultivated in Lebanon for hashish. This less potent cannabis is much closer to definition used for hemp strains in Europe.

The new legal framework creates a commission with a regulatory authority to issue licenses for all cannabis operations, including the import of seeds and saplings, planting and harvesting, manufacturing, and exports.

According to reports, these licenses will be awarded to Lebanese pharmaceutical companies and industries permitted to create industrial fibers, oils, and extracts. Foreign companies licensed to work in the cannabis industry of their own country of origin will also be allowed a Lebanese license.

In addition to these larger firms, licenses can be awarded to specialized Lebanese agricultural co-operatives, individual Lebanese citizens such as farmers or landowners, and laboratories and research centers qualified to work with controlled substances.

However, the law explicitly bans anybody with a criminal record from acquiring a cannabis license or working with cannabis crops in any way. This could potentially bar thousands who have previously served time for cannabis offenses from becoming involved in this newly legal industry.

Speaking to Al Jazeera before the cultivation bill was approved, Karim Nammour, a lawyer specializing in drug policy, criticized this facet of the law, saying that ”this law would legalise cultivation without taking into consideration the situation of persons who consume drugs, or those who produce them.”

"It’s an opportunity missed – they have failed to take a holistic approach.”

Cannabis legalization in the wake of Covid-19

While Lebanon has been able to pass this cannabis bill during the coronavirus pandemic, many countries and states that were pursuing similar bills have had to pause their endeavors.

For New York governor Andrew Cuomo, 2020 was the year he was meant to bring legal recreational cannabis to the state, after pledging to legalize the drug in his annual state address at the beginning of the year. Though previous attempts to legalize cannabis through a standalone bill had failed the year before, the governor was confident that a legalization measure could be included and passed in the state’s budget for the next fiscal year.

However, with the need to agree Covid-19 relief measures taking priority as the state budget deadline approached, cannabis legalization ultimately proved too complicated an issue to resolve.

“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” Cuomo said, in response to a press question about which policy issues he would have liked to tackle in the annual budget bill.

“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also caused similar problems in other states. In February, Senate and House lawmakers in Vermont agreed legislation that would legalize recreational cannabis in the state. The two chambers only had minor differences to resolve before the state legislature had to be temporarily adjourned due to coronavirus concerns.

On April 17, Mexico’s Supreme Court granted a request to once again extend the deadline for the legalization of cannabis in the country, after the coronavirus pandemic forced Mexico’s lawmakers to put most legislative activities on hold for the time being.

Mexico has been working to develop a policy legalizing the use of cannabis since 2018, when the supreme court declared the prohibition on personal possession and cultivation of cannabis to be unconstitutional. The court originally gave the legislature until October 2019 to develop such a policy, but this was extended until this month after some disagreements proved too difficult to resolve in the original timeframe.

While the lawmakers conceded that they wouldn’t have been able to meet this month’s deadline, they did say that substantial progress was made on the issue of legalization. Last month, a meeting of the Justice, Health, Legislative Studies and Public Safety Committees approved a revised cannabis reform bill, though legalization advocates say the revised bill still doesn’t do enough to empower domestic growers or enhance social equity provisions.

Under this new extension from the supreme court, the Mexican government will now have until December 15, the end of their next legislative session, to formally legalize cannabis.


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