Changing Cannabis Laws in the Middle-East: Lebanon and Israel

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Israel and Mexico are the countries that have most recently (2020) decided to fully legalise cannabis, not only for medical and industrial purposes, but also for recreational use. In another development, Lebanon has become the first Arab nation to legalise cannabis cultivation, but at the moment only for medical and industrial use. Historical cannabis use in the Middle-East Earlier this year archaeologists published their findings of traces of cannabis discovered at a Jewish temple at Tel Arad, which is near the Dead Sea, ten kilometres from the Israeli city of Arad. The findings date from the 9th to the 6th century BCE (Arie et al. 2020:5). It is apparent that cannabis has been used in the Middle-East for several millennia (see blog ‘Archaeologists discover cannabis residues on 2,700 year old biblical shrine’). Sūfī Qalandars, who used bhāṅg to excess, were highly visible in the Middle-East for several centuries, in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, from the 13th century onwards (Karamustafa 2006; Rosental 1971), and were largely responsible for introducing the recreational and spiritual use of cannabis to the region (and also to South Asia: see my blog ‘Radical Sūfīs‘). Lebanese hashish Lebanon has long been renowned as a country that produces high-quality hashish, notably in the fertile and beautiful but impoverished Bekaa Valley, which is around seventy miles long. It has been farmed there for many centuries, illegally since the 1920s, when it was outlawed. Particularly in the late 1970s, Gold/Brown Lebanese and Red Lebanese hashish were widely distributed in Europe (the terms ‘Gold’ and ‘Red’ for Lebanese hash refer to not just its colour but also to the two growing seasons). In Britain, the price of an ounce of Lebanese hash rose from £10 ($13) in 1969 (IT 1969) to between £28 and £32 in 1975 (Clark 1975:20). Between…

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