Beirut – The Lebanese parliament will soon review legislation to legalise medicinal marijuana, its speaker announced on Wednesday, as authorities seek ways to jumpstart the country’s struggling economy.
With public debt at 150% of GDP, the third highest rate in the world, Lebanon charged consulting firm McKinsey & Company with setting out a vision to revitalise growth.
McKinsey’s proposal, submitted this month to President Michel Aoun, included a recommendation to legalise and regularise the production and sale of marijuana.
Lebanese lawmakers may soon take action, speaker Nabih Berri told the US ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard.
“Lebanon’s parliament is preparing to study and adopt the necessary laws to legalise the growth and consumption of hash for medicinal purposes, like a number of European countries and some US states,” said Berri.
Consuming, growing and selling marijuana are all illegal in Lebanon.
But in the eastern Bekaa Valley, long marginalised by the central government, its widespread production has become a multi-million-dollar industry.
That could be brought under the government’s wing, said Trade and Economy Minister Raed Khoury.
He told reporters this month that McKinsey’s proposal included “establishing areas to grow cannabis for medical purposes, within a comprehensive legal, regulatory framework”.
Cannabis production blossomed during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 conflict. Even when the chaos of conflict ended, authorities struggled to clamp down on the trade.
Security forces regularly bust attempted drug exports at Beirut airport and have also gone to the source, destroying thousands of hectares of marijuana fields.
Growers have fought back and farmers have protested of the lack of a viable alternative for their livelihood. In 2012, they fired rockets at army bulldozers trying to raze their product.
The trade is mostly controlled by powerful families in the country’s east, many of whom are well-connected enough to evade arrest warrants or jail time.
Activists have called for the decriminalisation of marijuana use, and Lebanon’s Druze chief Walid Jumblatt is one of the country’s oldest legalisation advocates.
Cannabis is typically planted in the springtime in Lebanon and harvested in September, then sun-dried for three days, chilled and pressed.
The economy has been in a downward spiral for years, with political divisions paralysing the government and corruption draining resources.
The outbreak of violence in neighbouring Syria in 2011 added to those woes, keeping tourists away and triggering an influx of refugees that has strained public services.