Lebanon is considering legalizing the cultivation and export of cannabis for medical purposes as part of an effort to revive the country’s struggling economy.
“The Lebanese Parliament is preparing to study and adopt the legislation necessary to legislate the cultivation of cannabis and its manufacture for medical uses in the manner of many European countries and some US states,” Speaker Nabih Berri said in July.
Growing cannabis is cheap and alternative crops can hardly survive the harsh climate condition in Lebanon’s Bekaa region, making the plant a multimillion-dollar industry.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Bekaa, said the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people depend on its cultivation, while successive governments’ attempts to cease production have failed.
“Farmers say they have little choice but to grow cannabis in order to survive,” she said. “People are poor and there are few economic opportunities. They blame the authorities for neglecting their area.”
A draft bill has been proposed in parliament. But it’s not the first time the idea has been put forward and it may take months before parliament votes on the bill. In addition, new seedlings will need to be introduced for medical properties.
Antoine Habchi, a member of parliament, proposed the idea to legalise the plant in order to ensure that most of the proceeds go to the farmers who he says are those most in need.
“I proposed this law to help farmers. They have been the victims,” Habchi told Al Jazeera.
“They can’t openly sell it because it is illegal so dealers benefit most by imposing a price on the farmers and selling the product for higher prices. And those dealers have political cover.”
Some farmers, however, are already concerned about the potential effects of the plant’s legalization, saying that its widespread cultivation in recent years has already led to a decline in prices.
“The high supply means it is now very cheap … so if they legalize the cultivation it will have no value. We have been asking to legalize the trade for 20 years and they were against it,” a farmer who wished to remain anonymous told Al Jazeera.
“Now, they want to do this to gain political support from the people who are fed up with the politicians.”