‘Our child’s illness inspired a ground-breaking business venture’
ALO CaNN, a licensed medical cannabis producer, recently launched the first cannabis products dispensary in Lesotho. Situated at the Maseru Mall, the store offers a range of products from teas, creams and oils to treat different ailments and chronic illnesses.
Opened on 3 October 2019, the dispensary is owned by Matiti Kabi and her husband, Moshebi Kabi. In this interview, Ms Kabi (MK), shares her journey to being a trailblazer in the medical cannabis industry with the Lesotho Times (LT).
LT: What is the story behind Alo CaNN?
MK: ALo CaNN ‘A Lesotho Origin CaNNabis’, is a wholly Basotho owned company. It is owned by two directors, Ntate Moshebi Kabi and myself. Our medical cannabis story goes back 15 years when our third child was diagnosed with closed fontanelle. This is a condition where membrane at the top of the head closed too early. He had to undergo three operations on the head. They had to open up the head and work on the membrane. As a result, he developed convulsions and epilepsy. At the time, he was 16 months old and was prescribed a drug called epilim. That is when we discovered that within epilim is a synthetic cannabinoid called CBD. CBD, is one of the cannabinoids that is found in cannabis. We started to research about cannabis to find out why a synthetic component could be used instead of a natural plant, cannabis.
That is when we also discovered that human beings have an endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system that we have is complimented by the cannabinoids found in cannabis. There are other plants that may have some cannabinoids but cannabis is the only plant that matches like a lock and key to our endocannabinoid system.
Lesotho was the first African country to legalise medicinal cannabis through the Drugs of Abuse Act Number 5 of 2008. However, it was actually implemented or enacted in 2017 when the first licences were issued.
We also ventured into the industry after getting a licence. Our research and interest over the years propelled us to take the matter further to learn more about the ailments that are treated by cannabis. Cannabis, like I am saying, has over 100 cannabinoids. The main ones are CBD, THC, CBG, CBN, CBC and the exceptional THCVarin, which is exclusive mainly to this part of Lesotho. THCVarin is referred to mostly as the “Rolls Royce” of cannabinoids. It is the only cannabinoid that addresses issues pertaining to the levels of metabolic functioning in us humans. It actually suppresses appetite and thus deals with obesity. So, Lesotho is the only country in the world that is entirely over 1000 meters above sea-level. For this reason, we have an added advantage for the cultivation of cannabis. We have three critical components that are suitable for cannabis namely over 300 days of sunlight, the high altitude and the clean air. That, coupled with the natural water resources that we have, is a winning combination for cannabis cultivation.
ALo CaNN started off by undertaking research on Landrace Strains around the country. We did a lot of lab testing and identified eight strains that are suitable for medicinal purposes and went into cultivation. At every stage of the value chain, we undertook lab testing to ensure that we were within the fraternity requirements. Our products are 100 percent natural… All the products are made for start to finish in Lesotho, so the economic benefit derived from the business will definitely aid the country.
ALo CaNN is into this industry mainly for the health benefits derived from cannabis. The benefits derived are enormous. We already have numerous testimonies form people who have been using our products. The first showcase that we had was in December 2018 at the Cannabis Expo in Pretoria, at which we showcased the ALo CaNN products. We were inundated by numerous requests throughout the world. The second showcasing was in Cape Town in April 2019 at the Cape Town Expo at the GrandWest Casino. We were also inundated with various requirements requests from all over the world. We have been having people requesting to use our products both locally and outside.
Among our products are medicinal teas. We have eight different types. They treat ailments, are preventive and are useful for general wellness. Since the cannabinoids the human system, they bring the body into stability. We have various products like cannabis oils that also address chronic ailments…whether you apply it topically or you take it, it automatically gets into the system and the cannabis receptors that humans have immediately spread it through the body.
With our various teas, we already have testimonies on our online store alocann.store.
We have some people who had anorexia, Alzheimer’s, dementia, asthma and other ailments and have used these products and have testified that they work.
LT: How long has your business been operating?
MK: ALo CaNN was one of the first few companies to be licensed with the medical cannabis in 2017. We are now in our third year and I must mention that we only produce medical cannabis and not recreational. Prior to that, we did a lot of research. Now we operate within the legal framework of Lesotho and of the International Narcotics Control Broad (INCB) based in Vienna.
LT: Which areas of the medical cannabis industry are you involved in? Are you into cultivation of the crop or are you just into the extraction?
MK: We are involved in the entire value chain of the cannabis industry. We start off with the cultivation and then we do the oil extraction, product manufacturing, as well as the product dispensing. Through all the value chain processes, we work with a team of various technocrats and experts in various fields to come up with the product that we sell to our clients. We do the entire value chain because we are licensed as an operator.
LT: Do you have an export market or are you still operating locally? Since you have been to the various expos, how has been the reception?
MK: The reception has been quite enthusing. We have been inundated by regional and international demand. At the expos, we sold most of the products that we had and we had been inundated with demands. We have exported some of the products through the expos that I have mentioned. In addition to that, we are not only looking at the domestic market. We are looking at the regional and the international market but we are still in the process of aligning ourselves to meet the requirements of some of the destination countries’ requirements. For instance, THC being the main cannabinoid that is controlled, the countries that are using cannabis for medicinal purposes have got their varying levels that they say they want the THC to be at. So, each country will indicate its permissible levels of THC in the product.
However, all of our products are 100 percent natural. They have been lab tested and we are looking to expand into the international fraternity. America has its FDA requirements and on the European side there are certain standards that we have to adhere to, so we are working in unison with the respective third-party labs to ensure that our products meet those international requirements for us to expand.
Laboratories that are independent. It is a requirement of the industry that not only do we do our internal tests, but our products should also be tested by an independent party to ensure that they are in unison with what we claim. Since this is a new industry in the whole world, there are several challenges that must be overcome to ensure that whatever potency is being claimed is actually as indicated.
LT: Any plans for expansion? Will we see you in all the country’s 10 districts?
MK: We are looking at a business model that will ensure that we make our products readily available for Basotho as much as we can. We are looking at a business model that will enable us to ensure that it reaches the majority of Basotho to bring the health services closer to them. This is our short to medium term plan.
LT: Have you had any buy-in from the health sector for your products so far?
MK: We are still working with the Ministry of Health to look at the necessary modalities. There are certain processes involved. The country’s laws are being amended for medicines. We want to have the medicines fully registered so that they can filter through the entire health fraternity. We are working in unison with the respective departments within the Health ministry to ensure that the products end up reaching the hospitals. However, for now we are still just having individuals and referrals from some of the independent hospitals.
LT: Do your clients come with prescriptions or they buy over the counter?
MK: The law warrants our medicines can be prescribed by a medical practitioner. But us as licensed operators, we are supposed to have a pharmacist, which we do have. And it is only under the administration of the pharmacist that it can be administered. ALo CaNN has its internal pharmacist who guides the processes. Since we have been licensed, our pharmacists can make recommendations and dispense certain products on the basis of a diagnosis that has been provided.
LT: One of the most important factors about medication is pricing. How would you classify your prices? How far does it go?
MK: It would vary depending on the product. It becomes difficult to indicate, because we have an array of products. There are some for skincare, others for health and wellness. It varies per product. For instance, we have a lip balm that will be around M180. In the teas we would one that costs M250 and lasts for 25 days.