Lebanon hopes to gain an economic boost by legalizing medical cannabis and exporting it around the world.

The Middle Eastern nation defaulted for the first time earlier this month after racking up a bigger debt than it can bear. Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared the suspension of an overdue $1.2 billion bond payment. He said that Lebanon’s public debt has reached 170% of GDP, the third highest ratio in the world.

Last week, the cash-strapped Finance Ministry announced it would suspend payments on $30 billion worth of Eurobonds.

Now the government plans to turn to cultivating medicinal and industrial cannabis in a desperate effort to improve its financial position.

Parliamentary committees passed draft legislation that would legalize cannabis cultivation last month. It will now be transferred to the Lebanese parliament’s general committee for approval.

“The global consultancy firm McKinset suggested, in a study about setting a vision for Lebanon’s economy to grow its GDP and create jobs through selecting productive sectors, that legalizing the cultivation of cannabis would bring in up to $1 billion per year in revenue for the government,” said deputy parliament speaker Elie Ferzli.

He believes each dunum – a Middle Eastern unit of area measure equivalent to a quarter of an acre – can yield $10,000 per year if planted with marijuana.

Lebanon has a long history of cultivating hashish. It was prohibited in 1926, but many farmers have continued to grow it.

It is widely available in Lebanon, and criminal gangs export it around the world. Now the government was to make it legal, regulate an industry and benefit from tax revenue.

The draft legislation would only permit the cultivation of cannabis with less than 1% THC content. It would create a Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be tasked with issuing licenses for cultivation, manufacturing and exporting.

Farmers, agricultural cooperatives and research centres would be permitted to apply for a license. However, anyone with a criminal conviction for cannabis use or cultivation would be barred from working in the legal industry, meaning that some farmers with years of cultivation experience would be excluded.

That stands in stark contrast to the American approach, whereby individuals and communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs are often prioritized when it comes to issuing licenses.

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