Campo de cannabis en Líbano

Lebanon: The mecca of hash to become also the mecca of medical cannabis

  • Lebanon is one of the largest hash produces in the world, despite contrary legislation.
  • The serious economic situation facing the country has prompted the government to consider legalising medical cannabis, a burgeoning sector, in an effort to boost the local economy.
  • The first step has been the creation of a Medical Cannabis Research Center that is set to position itself at the forefront of research in the region.
Campo de cannabis en Líbano

Lebanon could become the first Arab country to legalise cannabis cultivation, although in areas like the Bekaa Valley the activity has long been well-established and is carried out openly despite prohibition. In fact, according to UN figures, the country is the world's third largest producer of hash after Morocco and Afghanistan, but these are behind in terms of quality. This paradoxical situation is one of the reasons that has prompted the Lebanese Government to consider a change in legislation that might bring about legalisation. Last summer, Parliament speaker Nabih Berri said Lebanon will review legislation to regulate the cultivation of cannabis for medical use in an effort to boost the country's economy.

Can Lebanese cannabis provide an alternative treatment option for certain diseases? 

This is the first question the government has asked itself, and as a first step to answering it, local scientists like Mohamad Mroueh have been given permission to research the medical applications of the plant in the newly created Medical Cannabis Research Center of the Lebanese American University. The focus of the study is on the properties of a local strain that grows abundantly in the Bekaa Valley, a hybrid derived from an Indica and a Sativa. The underlying assumption is that thanks to the local environmental conditions - amount of rainfall and sunlight, type of soil, etc. - the strain could be medically valuable and help with treating diseases such as cancer, epilepsy and diabetes.

Lebanese cannabis is known for its resistance to drought and high temperatures, environmental factors which directly influence the chemical composition of the plant and, thus, also its pharmacological characteristics. The potential of Lebanon-grown cannabis had not been thoroughly researched to date, a lack of interest that is now seen by researchers as a unique opportunity for progress. The study is in its early stages, with researchers focusing on the effect of cannabis oil on the growth of cancerous cells. If the results are satisfactory, next will come the clinical trials and the economic impact studies.

Valle del Bekaa

Repression and clandestine trade

Criminalising cannabis cultivation, sale and consumption has not been enough to stop the proliferation of clandestine trade in Lebanon, which has given rise to a multi-million-dollar industry. The origins of the conflict date back to the Lebanon war, between 1975 and 1990, when despite efforts by the authorities, the Bekaa Valley - located in the east of the country, by the Syrian border - became the heartland of Lebanese hash production in order to fund the militia involved in the conflict, a golden age in which local warlords made billions of dollars every year. Subsequently, the almost eight-year-long conflict in neighbouring Syria led to the absence of controls in the now non-existent border between the two countries, adding to the inability of Lebanese authorities to enforce effective measures.

Lebanese cannabis is known for its resistance to drought and high temperatures, environmental factors which directly influence its pharmacological characteristics 

In fact, action to combat illegal trade, including having the security forces block exports at Beirut Airport or destroy thousands of hectares of cannabis crops, has been as frequent as it has been ineffective. Even the UN has tried to do its bit, supporting the substitution of cannabis for more traditional crops like vines and olives, but local growers say no other plant would survive in such an arid Campo de marihuana


In Lebanon, cannabis is typically sown in spring and harvested in September. Then it is left to dry in the sun for three days, after which it is cooled down and pressed. Growers in Yammouneh say they sell the product to distributors for an average price of €400 per kilo, even more if the quality is particularly high. Resellers can then choose to sell in the local market or to export, manly to Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Cyprus, Turkey and Israel. 

Against this backdrop, the promise of legalisation should come as good news to producers, and yet it has given rise to concern in the Bekaa Valley. It comes after the parliament announced that growers will have to own a plot of land of at least one square kilometre in order to grow legally, quite an unrealistic aspiration that would leave most local growers out of the legal market. As a result, there are fears that this will leave the way clear for big corporations to take over, forcing small producers to keep operating underground.

The Bekaa Valley became the heartland of Lebanese hash production in order to fund the militia involved in the various conflicts

On the other hand, all indications are that legalisation will come hand-in-hand with amnesty for the over 30,000 people who are wanted on charges related to cannabis. Generally, those who are accused end up in prison, but episodes like that of last summer - a raid by the Lebanese army on the house of a major dealer that left eight people dead - are causing social unrest and may result in change. Meanwhile, those who are prosecuted are hard pressed to find a job in a different sector, and there are continued clashes with the security forces, all of which creates an environment of instability and social breakdown that impedes the normal development of the economy.

Medical cannabis as a way out of the crisis

Legalising medical cannabis is probably the wisest way to wipe out drug trafficking, and can benefit the country also in terms of public health. Yet the reason behind the government's willingness to take regulatory steps is purely economic.

In fact, the decision to embark on the project was made based on the conclusions of a report by the consulting company McKinsey & Company. Commissioned by the government in order to explore ways to reactivate the economy, the report says the economic impact of legalising cannabis could result in an industry worth billions. In the same vein, the minister of economy said the measure could generate annual tax revenues of over $500 million.

Calles de Líbano

According to Arcview Market Research, a consulting company specialising in the cannabis industry, global spending on cannabis will reach $32 billion by 2022, increasing by 22%. In view of these figures, it is hardly surprising that Lebanon has shown an interest in legalisation, particularly considering the country's struggling economy - public debt stands at more than 150% of GPD - and the fact that it has a potent cannabis industry that is forced to operate clandestinely.

Cases like that of Lebanon prove that legalising cannabis cultivation and consumption has positive effects not only in areas such as economy and health, but also in more complex situations, including in regions that have been affected by never-ending wars - a dual perspective that could prompt reluctant countries to take steps towards the regularisation of cannabis.


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