Lebanon's parliament is preparing to legalize cannabis cultivation and its production for medicinal use, House Speaker Nabih Berri told US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard on Wednesday, the CNN reported.
Berri offered no timeframe for the move, which would face a difficult path until the country has a government in place. Elections in May saw Prime Minister Saad Hariri's bloc shrink and negotiations to form a new administration have been taking place in the weeks since then.
But Berri is the most senior Lebanese figure to publicly endorse the legalization of cannabis for medicinal use. In an interview with Bloomberg this month, Economy Minister Raed Khoury boasted that the quality of Lebanon's cannabis was "one of the best in the world."
Political backing for legalizing cannabis farming gained momentum after consulting firm McKinsey & Co. sent the Lebanese government a roughly 1,000-page report in which it recommended that and other moves to boost Lebanon's cash-strapped economy, which suffers from slow growth -- around 2% this year -- and ballooning debt.
The consulting firm believes that Lebanon's clandestine cannabis farms may offer a quick fix. Lebanon is one of the top five producers of cannabis resin, otherwise known as hashish or hash, in the world, according to a 2016 report from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) World Drug Report.
Cannabis in Lebanon is grown illegally in the Bekaa Valley, considered one of the strongholds of the militant group Hezbollah. Hashish production in the country supplies other markets in the region, according to the 2016 UNODC report.
Lebanon joins more than 25 countries exploring the possible benefits of cannabis legalization.
Cannabis is "the most widely cultivated, produced, trafficked and consumed drug worldwide," according to the World Drug Report, but its legality has long been a topic of debate worldwide.
Many medical experts recognize its use to alleviate chronic pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and nausea and vomiting -- most of which are linked to a variety of disorders, including multiple sclerosis and cancer treatment.
These medicinal benefits are attributed to two main components of cannabis: the psychoactive component THC or the plant's extract, CBD oil. The latter is linked to improving anxiety as well as epileptic seizures, proving to be life-saving for children with a severe form of epilepsy.