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Lebanon’s Legalization Push

Bill Weinberg

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Walid Jumblatt is a name that was frequently in the news when Lebanon’s civil war was raging back in the 1980s. The longtime leader of the Druze ethnicity is still around, now an MP with the Progressive Socialist Party—and has emerged as Lebanon’s foremost voice for cannabis legalization. Noting the resilient hashish economy in the Bekaa Valley, Jumblatt has actually been pushing cannabis as a cornerstone of security and economic development in Lebanon, which now shows growing signs of being drawn into the Syrian war. In comments Jan. 14 to daily As-Safir, Jumblatt said: “I hold onto my opinion on the necessity of legalizing the cultivation of hashish… It’s time to allow hash to be grown and to overturn arrest warrants against people sought for doing so.”

Jumblatt applauded a recent raid on Islamist militant inmates who had seized control of sections of Roumieh Prison and were linked to a deadly suicide bombing days earlier in Tripoli. But he added:  “After turning the page in the file of Roumieh prison, the state’s efforts should be now focused on consolidating security and stability in the Bekaa. The treatment cannot be a security one only, but it should be backed by development [projects], and thus I still believe that the cultivation of hashish should be legalized because the theory of alternative crops had failed.”

Jumblatt made a splash last May, when he told Al-Jadeed television: “Never in my life have I smoked marijuana, but I support growing cannabis for medical use and to improve the living conditions of farmers in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. Let’s legalize cannabis and regulate its cultivation.”

These words carry weight, coming from the man often dubbed the “king-maker” of Lebanese politics, who has been able to make or break governments by shifting alliances. Lebanon is now deeply split between a Hezbollah-aligned camp which supports Syrian President Bashar Assad and a rival camp that opposes Hezbollah and Assad.

Amid this polarization, the illegal hash trade is booming, and clearly provides a source of revenue for armed groups. In one of the more spectacular recent raids, police in October confiscated more than 12,000 kilograms of hashish in the Beirut suburb of Dikwaneh, arresting five people and seizing a cache of weapons. The group, four Lebanese nationals and one Syrian, were only taken after an exchange of fire with the police. They included two 17-year-old boys, both Lebanese.

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