Could Cannabis Save Lebanon's Economy?

Could Cannabis Save Lebanon's Economy?

The global cannabis market has quickly become a multi-billion dollar industry as more countries continue to legalize the plant for medical use. So far, only Canada and Uruguay have approved adult-use.

A recent analysis from US-based consulting firm McKinsey & Co. has found that the production and export of medical marijuana could help stimulate the economy of Lebanon. The Middle Eastern county is the third-most indebted nation in the world and is desperate for cash flow to turn things around.

Lebanon hired McKinsey earlier this year to help develop an economic plan to help reduce reliance on foreign remittances (more Lebanese citizens live abroad than in the country itself) and combat high unemployment numbers. The 1,000-page report detailed several long-term and “quick win” options, such as building a wealth-management and investment banking hub, increasing construction on pre-fabricated homes for use in the rebuilding of war-torn neighbors Syria and Iraq, and boosting the local avocado market but it was the suggestion of legalizing the production of cannabis that caught the most attention.

Marijuana has been cultivated clandestinely in the predominately Hezbollah-controlled eastern Bekaa Valley for decades, despite prolonged government efforts to shut the market down. In 2017, Lebanon was ranked as the world's fourth-largest cannabis cultivator – behind Morocco, Mexico, and Nigeria – by the United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime. Lebanese blonde hash, a concentrated version of cannabis flower, is already well-known by “cannaseurs” in Amsterdam and other locations, a fact that should be taken into consideration according to Caretaker Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury.

“The quality we have is one of the best in the world,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg. Adding cannabis could become a one-billion-dollar industry.

Proponents of the move say that legitimizing the cannabis trade would stimulate the economy, create jobs, and inject much-needed tax revenue into Lebanon's economy. It would also lessen the costs associated with combating the illegal black market and help to defeat terrorist organizations who currently profit from it.

This isn't the first time that the idea of cashing in on Lebanon's booming underground hashish market has been floated around. In 2016, renowned Lebanese economist Marwan Iskander suggested the move to BBC News and politician Walid Jumblatt, head of the majority-Druze Progressive Socialist Party, tweeted in support of legalizing the cultivation and use of marijuana in 2014.

"Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley," Jumblatt later told Al-Jadeed television, according to local news site Ya Libnan. “Let’s legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation."

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David Kani

David Kani is a Newport Beach, California based business lawyer with a focus on cannabis companies, their investors, employees and cannabis-related litigation.
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