Lebanon is considering legalizing the cultivation and exportation of marijuana, according to a member of the country's caretaker cabinet.
McKinsey & Co. has created a roadmap to revitalize the struggling Lebanese economy. Among other recommendations, the global consulting firm has said Lebanon should legalize the cultivation of cannabis and begin exporting it for medicinal treatments.
Commenting on the plan, Lebanon's caretaker Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury told Bloomberg News that legal marijuana could become a $1 billion industry in the country.
"The quality we have is one of the best in the world," Khoury told international business publication in an article published Friday. While the minister said implementing the McKinsey plan would be difficult, he said without change, Lebanon "will have major economic turmoil."
Lebanon is already one of the world's major producer of cannabis
The Mediterranean nation's illicit cannabis industry is no secret. Cultivators and drug bosses have spoken openly to the local and international media about their trade. Despite this openness, growing, selling and consuming the cannabis remains completely illegal in the country. Security forces routinely arrest users with small amounts of the drug and burn fields of the crop.
Within the country, the drug is most commonly consumed in its resin form – hashish. A 2016 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime even listed Lebanon as one of the world's top five producers of cannabis resin.
With this reality in mind, some Lebanese politicians have called for legalization in the past. Most prominently, former minister and member of parliament Walid Joumblatt – who leads the Progressive Socialist Party – has repeatedly called for the country to legalize the drug.
In 2016, economist Marwan Iskander told the BBC: "There could be both work opportunities and a substantial increase in the national income if we legalise cannabis," suggesting that many of the 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon could be hired to farm the product.
Other components of the plan
In addition to legalizing cannabis, the 1,000 page report from McKinsey suggests Lebanon, which is the world's third most indebted nation, should focus on several several proposals classified as "quick wins." On top of cannabis, the report encourages Lebanon to expand its cultivation of avocados and find new markets to sell the agricultural product.
Khoury explained to Bloomberg that the report also advises Lebanon to boost tourism, set up a construction zone for prefabricated housing to be used in the reconstruction of war-torn Syria and Iraq, and build a wealth-management and investment-banking hub.
Commenting on the plan, Lebanon's President Michel Aoun said it would contribute "to the development of an integrated and coordinated vision among the various productive sectors in the country." Continuing, Aoun said it would help the Lebanese economy develop in "a sustainable manner" as it copes "with the challenges of the twenty-first century and the changing economic climates both regionally and globally," Lebanon's official National News Agency said.
Global sentiments surrounding cannabis are shifting
In June, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize recreational marijuana, also becoming the first wealthy Group of Seven (G-7) nation to do so. Uruguay was the first country to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis through a 2013 decision.
Many countries across Europe and around the world have moved in recent years to decriminalize the drug and legalize it for medical purposes. In the United States, marijuana is now legalized for recreational use in nine states and for medical purposes in 30 states. However, it remains completely illegal under the country's federal law.
Experts suggest that Canada's decision to legalize cannabis, which will be implemented in October, will be a major game changer for how the international community deals with and views consumption and production of the drug. If Lebanon follows the recommendations from McKinsey, it could be well-positioned to taken advantage of the shifting global sentiments.
Khoury explained that all the components of the plan are "interrelated." But as experts told Bloomberg, corruption and the country's dysfunctional political system will be major obstacles to implementation.