April 21, 2020 / 7:15 PM / a month ago

Lebanon legalizes cannabis farming for medicinal use

FILE PHOTO: A farmer is seen tending to cannabis plants in a field in the Yammouneh area west of Baalbek, Lebanon, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Lebanese parliament legalized cannabis farming for medicinal use on Tuesday, a potentially lucrative export for an economy in dire need of foreign currency as it grapples with a paralyzing financial crisis.

Although growing the plant is illegal in Lebanon, cannabis has long been farmed openly in the fertile Bekaa Valley.

Parliament’s decision was “really driven by economic motives, nothing else”, said Alain Aoun, a senior MP in the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun. “We have moral and social reservations but today there is the need to help the economy by any means,” he told Reuters.

The move would bring revenue for the government and develop the agricultural sector while legalizing cultivation which was in any case going on illegally, he said. “We don’t want to speculate on numbers ... but let’s say it is worth a try”.

Hezbollah, a Shi’ite Islamist group backed by Iran, was one of the only parties to oppose the legislation approved in a session on Tuesday.

The idea of legalizing cannabis cultivation with the aim of producing high value-added medicinal products for export was explored in a report by consultancy firm McKinsey commissioned by Lebanon in 2018.

Last month, Lebanese police carried out the country’s biggest drug bust when they seized about 25 tonnes of hashish that were set to be smuggled to an African state.

Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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