Cannabis cultivation for medical and industrial use is about to be legalized based on a draft law approved by the parliamentary committees on Wednesday and referred to Parliament for adoption.
While the proposal specified that the cultivation of cannabis would be solely targeted for medical and industrial purposes and would be governed by relevant regulations and laws, some parties warned against the negative repercussions that such a decision might entail, due to the lack of law enforcement and the political reality in Lebanon.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada stressed that there was a detailed study on the returns of cannabis legislation, which was recommended by the US McKinsey plan on developing the Lebanese economy. The study estimates that this industry could generate one billion USD annually to the state treasury.
“The Bekaa Valley is considered one of the best lands for cultivating cannabis, which is classified among the finest species in the world, and it does not contain more than 1 percent of narcotic substance,” he said.
Every thousand meters produces 250 kilograms of cannabis flower, according to estimates provided by the minister.
“If we sell a kilo for fifty dollars, we would support the Lebanese farmers and secure a great return for the state; but if we go towards establishing factories and pharmaceutical plants, then the profits will double, in addition to the possibility that this law would push foreign companies to invest in Lebanon with the aim of manufacturing drugs,” Mortada explained.
Researcher Mohammed Shamseddine, for his part, said that the area of cultivated land in the Bekaa was estimated at about three or four thousand hectares, which is likely to increase significantly with the cannabis legalization.
“Every thousand square meters of cannabis is estimated at about USD 20,000, i.e. times the return of any other agriculture,” he remarked.
Shamseddine, however, stressed that the legalization “does not mean controlling this trade, which may be exacerbated if it is not accompanied by close monitoring and enforcement of laws.”
He went on to say that based on the areas currently cultivated with “hashish” (cannabis), the income of farmers is estimated at about USD 600 million, while for merchants it may reach two billion or more. He also noted that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had ranked Lebanon as the third major source of hashish in the world for 2018 after Afghanistan and Morocco.
On the other hand, the president of the National Health Authority, former deputy Ismail Sukariyeh, questions the financial returns of cannabis legislation, warning at the same time against exploiting it in the absence of the state and the prevailing political and sectarian quotas.
“Based on my experience in the medical field, in a worn-out country that does not apply laws, the cannabis cultivation legislation will lead to transgressions from some hospitals and medical agencies, in addition to a monopoly on their export,” he warned.
Lebanese cannabis has long been a thriving industry during the civil war, and its returns were estimated at millions of dollars before the state decided to prohibit it and prevent its cultivation.
Since then, around 30,000 people were arrested for their involvement in its production, smuggling, and trade, amid broken promises to secure alternative crops that would secure returns for the residents of the Bekaa.