In Lebanon, a small country with an enormous public debt and near-stagnant growth, consensus is building for the legalization of cannabis cultivation. Politicians from key parties have coalesced around the palatable promise of exporting the crop for medicinal purposes and bringing in much-needed foreign currency.
On Friday, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri nudged along his Amal party’s vision for a state-governed cannabis monopoly. An alternative proposal from MP Antoine Habchi of the rival Lebanese Forces would allow private companies to develop the sector.
From the green fields of the Beqaa Valley, where many growers cannot leave their villages for fear of arrest, to the laboratories at Lebanese American University, where professors are already experimenting with cannabis oil to treat cancer cells, there is cautious optimism legalization is inevitable.
Economists caution the crop will not be a silver bullet for the country’s economic woes, or even its agricultural sector. But as it stands, millions of dollars are lost to the black market.
Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade Raed Khoury is hopeful. He told Asia Times Deep Dives that if legalized the niche sector could generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and eventually up to $1 billion.