Why Hezbollah opposes Lebanon’s legalizing cannabis cultivation
On Tuesday, Lebanon’s parliament legalised the cultivation of cannabis for medical and industrial use. The country said that the historic judgment, which made it the first Arab nation to do so, was passed in order to take the nation out of decade long economic crisis. The country has been known to produce high-quality Cannabis for over a century, but illegally, approximately generating about $1billion annually.
In 2018, the Lebanese government considered leveraging over the booming industry to generate revenue and repair the fractured economy, after New York-based consultancy McKinsey & Co. advised the government authorities on how to tackle its growing economic crisis. In 2018 UN Office on Drugs and Crime ranked Lebanon as one of the top five producers of cannabis all across the world.
Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis, even more severe than the greatest economic slump it witnessed during the 1975-1990 civil war. The lockdown, which was introduced around mid-March has added to the adversity, shooting poverty to record high levels, taking down 45 percent of the population. The government is in a desperate need to find means to strengthen its economy, as it has debt equivalent to 170 % of its GDP. Last month, for the first time in its history, Lebanon defaulted on payments due to lack of foreign reserves.
Many opposed the new law including the country’s radical political group, Hezbollah. Firas Maksad, a policy analyst and professor at George Washington University in the US believed that Hezbollah’s opposition is a gesture to uphold the Islamic principles it supports. He told The National, “Hezbollah took a principled position against it given the party’s claimed Islamic credentials, but practically it signalled to its allies that they can vote for the legislation.”
The key cause of conflict between government authorities and Islamist group is not ideological but monetary. The Bekaa Valley, located in the eastern part of the country, is where most of the cultivation happens. The region primarily falls under the control of Hezbollah. Prior to the legalisation of cannabis cultivation, Hezbollah got its share of money to keep the activity going without much interference from the authorities. But legalisation cut Hezbollah’s share, channelling the money directly to the government.
Hilal Khashan, a professor of political studies and public administration at the American University of Beirut, told Newsweek,”Hezbollah is a primary beneficiary of cannabis trafficking…The only way for Hezbollah to accept the ratification of the law is to be directly involved in its implementation—i.e., get its share from it.”
Even if the law gets social acceptance from rights groups and political parties, a lot depends on its implementation. Dr. Naseer Said, who was Lebanon’s former economic minister told Arab News that legalization should make way for decriminalization of cannabis production along with a light regulatory structure, avoiding strict licensing system.
He said, “You cannot, in a country with Lebanon’s corruption levels, institute a system for the farming, manufacturing and distribution of hashish that can be monopolized by the state or captured by a corrupt political class and its cronies.” He added, “The government can play a role in terms of ensuring the quality of medicinal hashish, particularly for export purposes, and monitoring for statistical, public-health and taxation purposes. But I would not favor a strict physical licensing system.”