Interview: Mahmoud Abuwasel​ Principal Wasel & Wasel & Launch Of Middle East’s First Medical Cannabis Legal Practice

In late December Cannabis Law Report spoke with Mahmoud Abuwasel​ the principal at one of the Gulf States’ leading law firms Wasel & Wasel, about the launch of the region’s first medical cannabis legal practice group and the firm’s initial forays into the Lebanese market.

We first had a general discussion about the possibilities of medical cannabis regulation throughout the region post the latest UN re-scheduling and some of the changes already taking place in Israel, The Lebanon, Turkey & Morocco.

Before we dive into the specifics here are a few thoughts Abuwasel shared with regard to the region generally.

ISRAEL

Although Israel & the UAE have just signed ” The Israel–United Arab Emirates normalization agreement”, officially known as the “Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization Between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel.” Abuwasel doesn’t see in the near future, much work for the firm in Israel itself and believes the market is currently well served by local Israeli firms and international firms with an office in Tel Aviv.

THE GULF STATES

Although Wasel & Wasel practice is run out of the UAE. It will be sometime yet, he says, before one could expect draft legislation on the books in the Gulf States. Things may change quickly as they have in other markets around the world but as yet the dominoes haven’t begun to fall in the region. He believes 2021 won’t be the year for Medical Cannabis in the UAE and it more likely 2022-23 will be the time one might expect some movement.

MOST ACTIVE MARKETS

Abuwasel initially sees the Lebanon as the market to concentrate on post the legislature’s acceptance of draft legislation.

Do read the full interview below for his thoughts.

Also for a bit of background see Cannabis Law Report story

Lebanon’s Parliament OK’s Legislation To Legalize Cannabis Cultivation For Medical & Industrial Use. Hezbollah Opposes Changes

For a little more analysis, also see

Policy Implications of Legalizing Cannabis Cultivation in Lebanon – Lebanese American University Presentation

Abuwasel is also waiting to see how provinces in Turkey are approaching hemp as some are being relatively proactive about the crop although as yet it appears Ankara hasn’t decided which way to step with regulated medical cannabis & hemp.

Morocco is also another market that could develop depending upon the plans of Mohammed VI the country’s current monarch who plays a leading part in the kingdom’s political and economic decisions.

RECREATIONAL CANNABIS

In 2021 apart from Israel the discussion of regulated recreational cannabis is not a discussion anywhere in the region and as Abuwasel points out this is likely to remain the case for many years to come

Mahmoud Abuwasel – Managing Partner / Head of Corporate & Tax Disputes

Could you give us from your perspective a little more background on where the Lebanon currently is with rules and regulations and the processes of setting up governmnet bodies to manage the development of a medical cannabis sector?

As far as we understand, the Lebanese government is pushing for operation of the law and its implementation policies expediently.

A month ago the regulations for medical cannabis medical practitioners was issued to govern the doctors and other medical professionals who will be licensed, and earlier in 2020 the Lebanese Government announced a tax on unutilized farm land to push for more farmers to pursue harvest of their farms, and also push unlicensed cannabis farmers to legitimize their farming operations.

Our expectation is that the authority that will be in charge of licensing medical cannabis commerce should be up and running around the end of Q1 2021.

Do you see the Lebanon as an investment opportunity or somewhere for US, Canadian & European companies to look for JV opportunities?

Yes, particularly as the Ministry of Industry in Lebanon has provided statistics that when comparing the cost of producing a gram of cannabis, the cost in Canada is USD 1; in Europe, more than USD 0.50; whilst in Lebanon, the cost is expected to fall between USD 0.18 and USD 0.20.

The conditions and natural factors of the climate, land, and soil in areas like Baalbek-Hermel in Lebanon are optimal for the production of cannabis and increase the quality significantly.

Lebanon will without a doubt be one of the competing countries in cost, production, and quality.

Will you have a permanent office in the Lebanon / Beirut?

In due course.

Your hire of Robert Raich as Special Counsel, can you give a little more detail about the hire, how it came about and what role Robert will play at the firm?

Robert Raich, Of Counsel

Robert is a (if not the) leading practitioner in this field and oversees our medical cannabis practice.

As a whole, many of us add to the success formula , such as, in terms of regional trade compliance, corporate regulatory issues, foreign investment and tax policies

But at the end of the day the industry is very complex and still young, but notwithstanding and even within this short period of time, Robert has been able to provide very formidable industry specific and ancillary guidance to clients and inquirers that cannot be obtained elsewhere.

As the first firm in the Middle East & Gulf States to open a medical cannabis practice we are interested to learn your thoughts on the growth of the sector in your region both in terms of producers and also in terms of regulating a medical cannabis environment for patients.

Now that legislation, of sorts, is on the books in Lebanon, Israel and to some extent Turkey and Morocco. Do you expect in 2021 to see developments in jurisdictions like Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia & any of the Gulf States?

Maybe not as early as 2021 – but I think the expansion into the industry in the region, and on a global scale, makes it quite predictable that in the near future other markets in the region will provide regulatory landscapes that are welcoming of cannabis industries – even for less controversial products such as hemp.

Articles Penned By Wasel & Wasel On Medical Cannabis Legal Issues In The Middle East

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