Legalizing hashish in Lebanon: Who benefits?

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The Lebanese Parliament is set to legalize hashish! Its Speaker Nabih Berri last Wednesday told US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard that Parliament is preparing to study and approve legislation to legalize the cultivation of cannabis for medical use, the state-run National News Agency reported. In a meeting with Richard, Berri said the move would be taken in a manner similar to “many European countries and some US states.”

In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this month, Caretaker Economy and Trade Minister, Raed Khoury, said Lebanon could legalize the cultivation and export of hashish for medical treatment, adding, it could create a $1 billion industry. “The quality we have is one of the best in the world,” he boasted.

This came after global consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. recommended the legalization of cannabis cultivation for medical use in a government-commissioned long-term economic plan it recently presented to officials.

Lebanon is famous for producing hashish, which is exported throughout the world. The plantation area is under Hezbollah rule, and the factories and trade have always been protected by the “Party of God”! A good part of the Shiite militia’s revenue comes from the illegal drug business. They, more than anyone else, are poised to win if the legislation were to be approved.

Passing the bill in the Hezbollah-controlled Parliament seems to be guaranteed. The Speaker is an allied Shiite. Many Christian, Sunni and Druze MPs are allies, too. The cabinet, headed by Sunni Saad Hariri, but dominated by the Party, would, most likely, rubber-stamp the bill.

It seems that Lebanon and Israel now have something in common. In recent years Lebanon has made the list of the top five cannabis producers mirroring the cannabis boom the country experienced during its 15-year civil war in the 1970s when the conflict made cannabis a lucrative crop, according to Herb Co. Hezbollah has led an international drug cartel with branches and alliances in the Middle East, Europe, USA, Canada, South America, South Asia, and Africa. With the recent move to legalize the plantation and trade, commercial and financial transactions would become much easier.

In March 2018, Israeli lawmakers unanimously approved the first draft of a cannabis decriminalization bill, which would remove most criminal penalties for possession and use of cannabis. Under the new law, first-time offenders would receive a fine of $1000, which would double for second-time offenders, third time offenders would be offered a rehabilitation program and only fourth time offenders would face a jail sentence. The money collected from fines would go toward expanding drug treatment programs and the enforcement of trafficking bans which would still remain in effect. The country currently has more than 25,000 registered medical marijuana patients and its Ministry of Heath has allotted more than $2 million to a dozen different study programs for cannabis research which have drawn scientists and cannabis companies from around the world, according to Herb Co.

The difference between Israel and Lebanon is that the Lebanese government may not benefit much from the “business,” because it has no control over plantations, manufacturing or trade. The Iranian militia, Hezbollah, on the other hand, would benefit from the legalization tremendously. With increasing US sanctions against Iran and its Arab militias, the Party is finding it more difficult to launder its drug revenues. With proposed legislation, its drug operations in Lebanon would become legitimate.

How would the US and its Arab allies respond to such a move? Would they pressure the government to veto the proposed act?

Financially strengthening the Party would further weaken the state. The Party is already acting as a state within the state. With Iranian support, its militias are stronger than the army and security forces combined. It is, therefore, in the best interest of the government, as well as other parties, to counter this dangerous move.

The sanctions of the US and its Arab allies should increase and be tightened. Intelligence agencies may help to expose the Party’s devious attempts to battle sanctions. European countries must join in. They are among the targeted markets for Hezbollah’s money laundering, and drug and human trafficking, not to mention terrorist activities.

Iran and its Lebanese drug cartel may win this round, but the game should not be over. Countermeasures must be immediately prepared to contain Hezbollah and sabotage its devious plans. The beast has to be starved, or no one is safe!

— Dr. Khaled Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at: Kbatarfi@gmail.com Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi


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