THE emerging Lesotho medical cannabis industry has the potential to turn the country into a global powerhouse in the production and supply of the commodity both as raw and as finished medical products.
This was said by Francios Pareirra, the president of medical marijuana firm, Medigrow Lesotho.
Mr Pareirra said this during a recent media tour of Medigrow’s estate in Marakabei in the Maseru district. He said Lesotho can take a leaf out of Tasmania’s book to develop a successful medical marijuana industry.
Tasmania is an island located off Australia’s southern coast and is responsible for the production of half of the global supply of poppy-straw that is later refined into opiates such as morphine and codeine.
Through its opium poppy farming, Tasmania is a starting point for the global supply chain that encompasses the largest drug companies and produces $12 billion (about M149 billion) a year of opiate painkillers.
However, Mr Perreira warned that the medical marijuana industry required utmost commitment for it to thrive.
“Lesotho is blessed with natural conditions that favour the production of medical cannabis. The pristine environment characterized by clean water and air, as well as its ability for high altitude cultivation are perfect.
“These conditions are necessary to control diseases and pests on the cannabis crop, which can ultimately lead to its contamination during usage of chemical pest and disease control,” Mr Perreira said.
Through the conducive climatic conditions, Mr Pareirra explained it was comparatively cheaper to produce medical marijuana in Lesotho.
“We are sitting on something very special, but at the same time it is very fragile and needs to be handled carefully. We could copy the model used by Tasmania in producing opium.”
Medigrow is one of the holders of the comprehensive Lesotho licenses which include the manufacturing of intermediate and final medical cannabis products for export to international clients.
Situated at Ha Marakabei, which is 2000 metres above sea level, Medigrow production is uniquely positioned for growing high grade medical cannabis.
The project currently has over 75 employees (mainly women) receiving a minimum salary of M 2, 500 each month. It is anticipated that the project and related ancillary industries, jobs are expected to scale-up to over 3 000 in the next 24 months.
Meanwhile, Basotho will also get the chance to buy shares in Medigrow Lesotho after the medical marijuana firm indicated that it will begin selling shares to the public to raise capital.
Lesotho became the first African country to legalise the growing of medical marijuana in 2017 and Medigrow had already been licensed in 2016 to grow the plant.
Medical Marijuana refers to the use of the whole unprocessed marijuana plant, or the plant’s basic extracts, for the treatment of various health conditions.
The more than 500 different chemicals contained in the marijuana plant offer a panacea for patients suffering from different medical conditions ranging from epileptic seizures, cancer, mental illnesses, nausea, pain, and inflammation.
And Medigrow, which has set up operations at Marakabei in the Maseru district, says it will empower local communities by giving them up to 42 percent stake in the company.
Since 2016, the company has set up the production plant which includes the tunnels where the marijuana plant is cultivated as well as an extraction and packaging facility. It has also set up an administration block and living quarters for its staff.
The company is however, yet to commence commercial operations as some parts of its plant are still under construction.
Medigrow’s Chief Executive Officer, Andre Bothma, said the project is valued at around M900 million (almost M1 billion) at full scale production. He further explained that, so far M200 million was injected into the project. Some of Medigrow’s investors include the Canadian firm, Supreme Cannabis, which has so far injected C$10 million (M90, 4 million) into the project.
As the first country in Africa to legalize production of cannabis for medical and research purposes, Lesotho has a first mover advantage to become one of the star players in the global cannabis industry.
So far, eight companies in Lesotho were awarded licenses to produce medical marijuana. Many locals, particularly growers of the illegal recreational marijuana, have called for inclusion in the production of medical marijuana which appears to have attracted large scale foreign investors.
Mr Bothma told the media that his company will soon announce an initial public offering of shares, possibly in July when they plan to begin commercial production.
The growing of cannabis for medicinal purposes followed scientific and medical research into the plant in the early 1990s, with the discovery of the body’s Endo-cannabinoid system.
It has been scientifically established that the cannabis plant produces substances called cannabinoids that can interfere with the human endocannabinoid system. Once consumed the external cannabinoids (both THC and CBD) found in Medical Marijuana interact with the human body’s internal endo-cannabinoid system to cause the desired medicinal effects of relieving various conditions.