Lebanon News

High hopes for legal cannabis industry

Cannabis field in Hermel. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: The Joint Parliamentary committees recently approved a draft law that is set to introduce a new industry to the Lebanese economy – the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.

According to a copy of the draft law obtained by The Daily Star, the cannabis seedlings that will be legal to cultivate should not contain more than one percent of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) – the main psychoactive component of cannabis.

“The seedlings will be imported from abroad from countries like the Netherlands, where they grow them,” MP Yassine Jaber, who headed the subcommittee tasked with discussing the cultivation of cannabis, told The Daily Star.

The draft law began with the subcommittee for the cultivation of cannabis, then moved to the joint committees, which approved it on Feb. 26. The draft document is now set to be discussed at the general assembly of Parliament.

According to Jaber, the majority of Parliament supports this draft law and he is hopeful that the draft law will be endorsed during the general assembly vote.

Hezbollah MPs voted against the draft law during the joint committees’ session and will do the same during the general assembly, according to one Hezbollah lawmaker, who did not disclose the reasons behind the party’s stance.

Lebanon is a signatory of the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which regulates the amount of chemicals permissible for the crops to contain.

Jaber said that the new law has two aspects. The first is to regulate the activities of farmers who cultivate cannabis illegally, according to exisiting Lebanese law.

“We want to fight illegal farming and cultivation and want [the farmers] to benefit ... because the traffickers are the ones mainly benefiting right now,” he said.

According to Jaber, the second aim of the draft law is to create a new and promising agro-industry in the country that will lead to the production of pharmaceutical and industrial products.

“Special fiber can be produced from the cannabis plant that can replace polyester and be used for textiles and for ropes for ships for example.”

Jaber said the aim is to both export the plant to the market abroad and also develop it into an industry in Lebanon.

MP Paula Yacoubian, who was present at the joint committees session, told The Daily Star that CBD oil stemming from the cannabis plant, in addition to medicinal use, can be used for cosmetic products and for wellness purposes – as done in many countries - and can also advance these industries in Lebanon.

International consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. recommended in a report published in 2018, the replacement of “low-value crops” with legal cannabis cultivation to produce “high-value-added medicinal products with an export focus.”

The report said that while the value of Lebanon’s cannabis production was difficult to estimate, it cited reports that it had a value of up to $4 billion.

Around the same time, former Economy Minister Raed Khoury told Bloomberg that the legal cultivation of cannabis “could become a $1 billion industry” and that the quality of the Lebanese crops is “one of the best in the world.”

Jaber noted that while the state’s role will be to regulate this new industry and monitor it, it ultimately wants to create a space for the private sector to take advantage of this new opportunity.

The draft law states that a regulatory authority, which will fall under the purview of the presidency of the Cabinet, will oversee the enforcement of this law.

A main aspect of implementing the law is issuing permits – issued by the regulatory authority – for activities ranging from the cultivation of the plant, to transporting, producing, storing, selling and distributing it. Only permit holders will be able to work under this new law.

A source familiar with the cannabis cultivation in Bekaa said that many farmers have welcomed this draft law and believe it will help them make even more profit in a legal manner.

Cannabis containing around 27 percent of THC is currently grown illicitly in the Eastern Bekaa Valley and hashish stemming from the plant’s resins is also illegally produced and distributed locally.

The new law does not address the use of cannabis for recreational purposes, which will still remain a crime under the current Lebanese drug law.

However, despite some of the positive reverberations that the draft law has caused, some believe that the draft’s articles included gaps that could be problematic.

Lawyer and board member of Legal Agenda Karim Nammour said that the approved draft law has room to be amended.

The bill refers to the existing drug law for punishments for those who cultivate cannabis outside the framework of the permit.

It is disproportionate and goes against the general principle of proportionality of the criminal law, he said.

Nammour also said the draft law grants permits only to those who have a clean criminal record. However, he pointed out that most farmers don’t have a clean record because of prior cultivation of cannabis, and hence will likely be unable to benefit from the new law.

“The draft law should include an amnesty clause,” he noted.

The government is set to approve an amnesty bill, however it is not apparent yet on whom it will be applied.

Another concerning part of the law for Nammour is the manner in which the regulatory authority is set to be established, that leaves room for corruption.

“The source of funding of the regulatory authority comes from the permit fees and not from the government’s budget,” Nammour said. This means that the authority’s revenue and funding are linked, an issue that could cause a conflict of interest.

 

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