Bekaa Valley, Lebanon( CNN) The farmer plucks a cannabis flower from a long husk. He presses it against his nose, inhales deep and begins to extol the therapeutic — if not inevitably scientific — properties of his crop.
“Smell this. It smells like heaven, ” says Abu Salim, who doesn’t want his real name used for security reasons. “This is the herb of happiness. My friend says that when he smokes a joint, his wife becomes a princess, the world glistens, and life is beautiful! “
This is part of the heartland of Lebanese farming, once considered the breadbasket of the Middle East. It is also home to some of the region’s most conservative and controversial political groups.
An expanse of cannabis — nearly the size of three football fields — stretches out in front of Abu Salim. Harvesting season hasn’t started yet, but the country has now been developed its sights on fields like these.
Heeding the recommendation of international consulting group McKinsey, which was part of a broader development scheme, Lebanon’s parliament is preparing to legalize medicinal cannabis and its cultivation. It’s meant to pave the way to a nearly $800 million industry, according to Economy Minister Raed Khoury, and could serve as a quick fix for some of the country’s many economic woes.