Lebanon became the first Arab country to legalize cannabis farming in the hopes that sales from the plant will provide some relief to its debt-ridden economy.
Despite pushback from the Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah, the Lebanese parliament passed legislation legalizing marijuana cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes. Recreational use of marijuana will remain illegal.
Consultants hired by Lebanon from the New York-based global consulting company McKinsey had estimated the cultivation of cannabis in Lebanon could generate up to $1 billion per year in government revenue.
After Morocco and Afghanistan, Lebanon is the third-largest source of cannabis resin worldwide, according to the United Nations. Although growing the crop was illegal, farmers in the fertile Bekaa Valley have been cultivating the plant for centuries.
Minister of Agriculture Abbas Mortada told Al-Monitor a government team will now study which soil in which regions is most suitable for cannabis farming. He added that a “cannabis cultivation body” will oversee planting, harvesting and manufacturing.
The move is expected to generate badly needed revenue for Lebanon’s ailing economy, which is experiencing its worst downturn since the 1975-1990 civil war. For the first time in its history, Lebanon defaulted on its debt in early March.
Nationwide anti-government protests over perceived government corruption, high youth unemployment and a lack of basic services erupted in October. Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who has promised to address the concerns of the protesters, pledged a wide-reaching rescue plan that his office says will include commitments to long-stalled reforms.
On Tuesday, protesters took to the streets of Beirut in their cars, resuming the popular movement that had been stalled amid the coronavirus outbreak, which has so far killed 22 people in Lebanon and infected more than 680.
A Palestinian woman from Syria became the first refugee in one of Lebanon’s camps to be treated for the coronavirus, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said today.