Cannabis is illegal in Lebanon, despite the fact that the country is famous for producing high quality hashish. However, in 2018, the government announced they were planning to move ahead with legalising cannabis for medical purposes. Since then, political unrest has held up these plans, and no-one is sure whether the law will be passed or not.
Cannabis laws in Lebanon
Can you possess and use cannabis in Lebanon?
Possession and use of cannabis is illegal in Lebanon, and even possessing a small quantity is regarded as a criminal offence. According to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychoactive Substances Law 673, using any narcotics without medical prescription can result in a prison sentence of between three months and three years, in addition to a fine. The law permits leniency if the individual is not involved in drugs dealing and demonstrates good conduct.
Although the laws are tough, cannabis arrests are relatively infrequent – but they do occur from time to time. In 2013, for example, a 26-year-old woman was charged with possession of just six grams of hashish.
In the Bekaa Valley, an area known for cannabis cultivation, there are over 40,000 outstanding arrest warrants against farmers and traffickers alike. There have been calls for an amnesty between the farmers and the authorities, but as of yet, this hasn’t occurred.
Can you sell cannabis in Lebanon?
The sale or supply of cannabis in Lebanon is also illegal, and penalties are more severe than for possession. A longer prison sentence may be given, in addition to a larger fine.
Unlike an offender caught possessing cannabis (who can appeal for leniency), anyone caught dealing cannabis cannot appeal for a reduced sentence.
Can you grow cannabis in Lebanon?
It’s illegal to cultivate cannabis in Lebanon, even in small quantities in your own home.
Despite this, cannabis is widely grown in the country, and the U.N. claims that Lebanon is the world’s third largest supplier of cannabis resin (hash). Cultivation is particularly common in the Bekaa Valley, which is regarded as the heartland of traditional hashish-making. Indeed, it’s so integral to the local culture that a Roman temple in Baalbek has an engraving of a cannabis leaf on it.
The police and the cannabis farmers are continually in conflict, but regardless of the law, cannabis continues to be grown here.
Is CBD legal in Lebanon?
The law doesn’t differentiate between cannabis and CBD. Although CBD has very low levels of THC (the substance responsible for providing the ‘high’) it is still regarded as an illegal substance in Lebanon, and its sale and use are forbidden.
Can cannabis seeds be sent to Lebanon?
Cannabis seeds are not legal in Lebanon, and you’re not allowed to buy or sell them. Nor can you send them in the post.
Medicinal cannabis in Lebanon
Up until 2018, medicinal cannabis was illegal in Lebanon, and there was no evidence to suggest that the law would change. However, in July 2018, the country’s parliament announced that they were preparing to legalise not only medicinal cannabis consumption, but also its cultivation too.
The decision came after the government received a report from McKinsey & Co, recommending that cultivating medicinal cannabis would boost the country’s economy and address its debt problem. As one of the world’s biggest producers of cannabis resin, the potential for the Lebanese cannabis market is huge.
House Speaker Nabih Berri didn’t state any timeframe for the changes to come into action. This wasn’t surprising, given Lebanon’s unstable political climate. Indeed, by the end of 2018 (seven months later), the country had failed to form a new government, which potentially put the plans on hold for the foreseeable future.
Despite this fact, the government’s decision to legalise cannabis for medical purposes marks a significant shift in opinion. Many Lebanese politicians have publicly endorsed medicinal cannabis, and in July 2018, Raed Khoury, the Economy Minister, even stated that Lebanon’s cannabis was “one of the best in the world.”
Will it become legal for medical use? At present, it’s difficult to say. Once Lebanon has established a stable government again, it’s likely to be back on the agenda.
Industrial hemp in Lebanon
Hemp has been grown in Lebanon for centuries. The heart of the hemp industry is in the Bekaa Valley, which has the ideal climate and soil conditions for optimum cannabis growth. In fact, the arid soil is so suitable for its cultivation that no irrigation or fertilisers are required. Just one hectare of cannabis can produce anything between 40 to 100 kilograms of hashish, which is worth serious money to the farmer.
By the latter half of the 20th century, growing negativity towards cannabis meant that this abundant cultivation was almost eliminated. In 2002, it was estimated that only 2,500 hectares of cannabis plantations remained in the Bekaa Valley. In 2009, authorities claimed that they’d eliminated hemp production entirely. However, this wasn’t the case – only 1,300 hectares were destroyed.
The government’s eradication efforts have had serious impact on Lebanon’s rural communities, with many people now living in poverty. Traditionally, farmers relied on their annual cannabis harvest to boost their meagre incomes. The government has tried to find alternatives, but as of yet, has not been successful.
At present, it’s not certain how much illegal cultivation is taking place in Lebanon. Most believe it’s over 5,000 hectares in the Bekaa Valley alone. It’s risky for farmers to grow it, given the tough laws in place, but for many, it’s a vital source of money for their families.
The law may be set to change, though. If cannabis is legalised for medical use (to boost the country’s economy) it’s possible that industrial hemp will be made legal too.
Good to know
If you are travelling to Lebanon (or are a resident of the country), it is useful to know the following:
- Cannabis is the most commonly seized drug in Lebanon, followed by cocaine, fenethylline and ecstasy.
- Cannabis has been used in the Bekaa Valley for centuries and is referred to as Al-Mabroukeh, which means the ‘blessed plant’.
- It was traditionally used as payment in the Bekaa Valley, with farmers also using it in dowries for weddings. Guests would be offered it freely as a gesture of hospitality.
Attitudes to cannabis
Outside the Bekaa Valley, attitudes to cannabis are quite negative. Many Lebanese people regard it as a ‘dangerous drug’; and the media often demonises Bekaa cannabis farmers as the ‘mafia’.
There is, however, a strong sub-culture of cannabis use in the country. This became more noticeable as the ‘baby boomer’ generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) started to become the dominant presence in society. These days, young people also tend to have a more positive view of cannabis.
What’s the cannabis like in Lebanon?
Lebanon is famous for its high-quality hashish; most of which is produced in Bekaa Valley. Lebanese Red and Blonde are popular Lebanese strains among the hashish-smoking community woldwide.
A farmer in Bekaa Valley, when talking about the Bekaa Valley hashish, tells ABC: “There is no such quality elsewhere in the world (…) You smoke this hashish once and you will never forget it. And then you’ll want to smoke it every day.”
Bekaa Valley’s fight over legalisation
Not everyone is happy about the government’s plans to legalise cannabis for medical purposes. Farmers in Bekaa Valley are protesting the move, claiming that the legalisation of hashish is a “theft from our people”.
One farmer stated: “As this crop generates a lot of revenues, so our politicians want to legalise it to steal that production.”
Cannabis has been cultivated openly in this area for decades, despite the laws. Government raids occasionally interrupt Bekaa Valley’s industry, but for the most part, the plantations are under the control of Shia militias, who permit the cannabis’ growth.
Abu Jafaar, a farmer in the area, has 30 arrest warrants out against him. He is against handing his cannabis harvest over to the government. “If the solution to avoid raids is to let them steal our money, well, we won’t accept that,” he tells ABC. “I work in danger every day for the money. What we want is that they let us grow it and not raid us anymore.”
Lebanese hash production
As one of the world’s hashish-producing capitals, it’s unsurprising that the Lebanese have mastered the technique of making hash. Here’s how it’s made:
- Harvesting. This usually occurs in late September, with the plants left out on the field until they’re almost dry.
- Drying. The plants are then laid on a rooftop to dry fully in the sun.
- Storing. Once dry, the cannabis is placed in a cool, dry room for two or three weeks, to cure it.
- Separating. The farmers then get to work separating the resin from the flowers, leaves and stems.
- Stripping. All stems and outer leaves are stripped.
- Rubbing. The female flowers are shaken and rubbed over a series of fine silk-screens with varying mesh sizes. The first ‘shake’ produces the highest quality dusty powder (kief). The second and third shakes produce inferior quality powder.
- Storing again. This powder is then placed in plastic bags and stored until winter, when it’s transferred into a cotton or linen bag to be pressed.
- Pressing. Industrial presses squeeze the powder into blocks of soft, malleable hashish.
Will it be legalised in the future?
At present, it seems likely that cannabis will be legalised for medical purposes. It’s difficult to say exactly when, as this depends on when the next government is formed and who is in charge of the law-making.
As for recreational use? Legalisation is unlikely, given the country’s negative attitudes towards cannabis. However, if the legalisation of its production boosts the economy significantly, perhaps people’s perceptions might change.
- Disclaimer:While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide legal advice, as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.