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Green revolution: Tunisia's 'leaf party' wants to legalise cannabis for new economic highs

Ben Halima believes Tunisia could benefit from tax raised by the country's hashish consumers [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 June, 2019

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A Tunisian political party running in the country's November polls hopes to legalise recreational use of cannabis as a way to jumpstart the North African country's struggling economy.

A Tunisian political party running in the country's November polls hopes to legalise recreational use of cannabis as a way to jumpstart the North African country's struggling economy.

Hezb El Warka (The Leaf Party) is led by enthusiastic, bearded lawyer Kais Ben Halima, who thinks marijuana criminalisation is a relic of the authoritarian rule of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and French colonisation.

"Eight years after the revolution, Tunisia is still governed by the obsolete laws of Ben Ali… that were created to silence the people and resistance," the 36-year-old said in an interview with Huffpost Maghreb.

"[Cannabis] is a golden green opportunity that we should take advantage of especially since the Tunisian climate is perfect for cannabis cultivation,"

Ben Halima believes Tunisia could benefit from tax revenues raised by the country's hashish consumers - a group he estimates could be as high as 90 percent among young people in impoverished rural areas.

The revolution that toppled long-time dictator Ben Ali in 2011 has failed to reinvigorate Tunisia's stagnant economy, with around a third of young graduates being unemployed.

"Legalisation will undoubtedly lead to a reduction of consumption. First of all, because prohibition leads to consumption - it is an act of rebellion on the part of young people," he said.

"It is unreasonable for the government to sell dangerous drugs like alcohol and tobacco and to earn taxes from them - while both are far more dangerous than cannabis," he added.

He also thinks the reintroduction of a hemp industry, which was banned under French colonisation, and tourism revenue from turning the country into a "sunny Amsterdam" will bring billions of dollars into the country.

Last year, Tunisia amended its harsh Ben Ali-era drug law, which put thousands of young people behind bars on charges of possessing small quantities of cannabis for personal use.

The change to Law 52 gave judges the discretion to weigh mitigating circumstances in order to reduce the mandatory one-year jail sentence for use or possession.

"It's not conceivable that after the revolution of freedom we are still living with laws that oppress liberties... Law 52 must be completely eliminated," Ben Halima argues.

"It is time to put an end to this failure of the political class. It's time to get things moving," he concludes.

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