BEIRUT: Last month, Parliament’s joint committee agreed to finally legalize the local cannabis industry for medicinal and industrial use in an effort to boost the country’s faltering economy.
The decision came after years of debate, alongside well-documented clashes between drug lords and law enforcement.
Lebanon's current draft law could fuel up a $1 billion industry, a rather bold statement made by former Economy Minister Raed Khoury to Bloomberg News in 2019. This certainly comes as welcome news to the crippled Lebanese economy, whose public debt is equal to 170 percent of its GDP.
However, the draft law, which is now making its way in the legislative pipeline, has angered activists, lawyers and academics, mainly for its failure to take into consideration previous laws pertaining to local drug use and cultivation, among other things.
“The draft law is problematic on many levels,” lawyer, researcher and board member at the Legal Agenda Karim Nammour told Annahar. “It doesn’t take into account the Drug Law 673 of the year 1998 which deals with drug consumption."
According to the National Report on Drug Situation in Lebanon 2017, around 3000 persons are persecuted annually for drug consumption, and these figures show no sign of slowing down. Nammour argues that it’s irrational to have a law that prosecutes drug consumers, on one hand, coexist with a law that legalizes the cultivation of drugs, on the other.
“It seems the point of the law is to create a business for a very small elite that to reel in profits without dealing with the thousands of people who get arrested annually for consuming drugs,” said Nammour.
The farmers’ well being
Another worrying aspect of the law is that it doesn’t take into account the livelihood and wellbeing of the farmers, experts warn.
One of the conditions to be eligible for a license to cultivate cannabis is a clean criminal record, which most cannabis farmers lack after years of being pursued by law enforcement.
“90 percent of farmers don’t have a clean criminal record, which is normal because it was illegal to cultivate cannabis,” Nammour said. “So basically this makes it virtually impossible for them to obtain a license. The draft law should have included an amnesty that pardons and drops charges against these farmers," he added.
Yet the law does allow people who were “legally rehabilitated” to receive a license, which is even “more frightening” according to Nammour, as it puts farmers on par with serious criminal offenders who may be pardoned for serious charges like money laundering and trafficking.
“We need certain conditions where people with a history of violence, something more serious than cultivating, cannot be given a certificate,” Nammour stated.
Nammour isn’t the only professional worried about the wellbeing of farmers. Ali Chalak, an associate professor of applied economics at the department of agriculture at the American University of Beirut, argues that farmers might face technical problems that make growing cannabis very expensive and costly.
“Legalization of marijuana might work for a few years,” Chalak said. “But once competition sets in, it’s just yet another crop that’s going to put farmers under tremendous amounts of stress: expensive hybrid seeds that are technically more demanding, with larger amounts of irrigation and more labor.”
Another problem is the farmers’ lack of expertise in growing this new strain of medicinal marijuana that contains very low amounts of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and higher amounts of the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD).
“It is an illegality that farmers actually miss on an unconscious level because it is what makes their work lucrative,” Chalak said with a smile. “This is why we have to look for other solutions than legalization to solve the farmers’ economic problem and compensate for the loss of illegality.”
The draft law also fails to amend the penalties within Lebanon's drug law. Articles 125 and 126 of the current drug law equally criminalize any activity related to drug cultivation, production, sale and others.
“This is very problematic because it goes against a very important principle of criminal law, which is proportionality,” says Nammour. “You cannot criminalize very different acts the same way; you need to include proportional criteria.”
Drawing parallel remarks
It is critical to note that Lebanon could be at the forefront of Arab countries to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. However, it is certainly behind many other parts of the world, because over the last five years, the discourse surrounding the decriminalization of marijuana, and the legalization of its medicinal and recreational uses have prospered around the globe.
If Lebanon wants to follow the best practices of leading nations like Canada for cultivating and selling medical marijuana, then very thorough oversight committees should be put in place to regulate the compliance and enforcement of best practices in the production of medicinal cannabis. These are needed to protect the health and safety of the patients who are going to use this plant.
It should be noted that these inspections identify deficiencies and implement corrective measures. Thus, how is Lebanon going to regulate its medical marijuana production?
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