The Lebanese parliament legalized cannabis farming for medicinal use on Tuesday, amid an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawmakers, who met in a 1,000 seat conference hall to maintain appropriate social distancing, also approved the re-allocation of $40 million from a World Bank loan to help fight COVID-19.
Lebanon previously banned growing, selling and consuming cannabis, but illicit production in the country's east has developed over decades into a multi-million-dollar industry.
Parliament’s decision was “really driven by economic motives, nothing else”, said Alain Aoun, a senior MP in the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun.
“We have moral and social reservations but today there is the need to help the economy by any means,” he said.
The move would bring revenue for the government and develop the agricultural sector while legalizing cultivation which was, in any case, going on illegally, he noted, Reuters reported.
“We don’t want to speculate on numbers ... but let’s say it is worth a try”.
Another item on the agenda of the three-day session were proposals for a divisive general amnesty, but that motion was sent back for revision by a parliamentary committee.
This came as dozens of Lebanese citizens demonstrated in a new attempt to revive anti-government protests.
According to AFP, they drove a noisy convoy of cars covered in slogans, drivers honking their horns and passengers brandishing the national flag and leaning out of the windows -- while wearing face masks.
"Today, instead of passing a general amnesty law... they could pass a law on the independence of the judiciary," said Jad Assaileh, a young demonstrator.
"We want to recover the stolen money," he said, referring to allegations that Lebanon's ruling elite transferred billions out of the country while regular citizens were prevented from withdrawing their savings by the banks.
Similar protests took place in the cities of Sidon and Tripoli.
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