LESOTHO faces the prospect of being overtaken and left behind in the multi-billion dollar medical marijuana industry after Zimbabwe recently moved to legalise the growing of the medicinal plant.
Lesotho became the first African country to legalise the growing of medical marijuana amid high expectations that the country would immensely benefit from the world-wide industry which is projected by forbes.com to grow from US$7, 7 billion in 2017 to $31, 4 billion in 2021.
According to the Grand View Research Inc, the global medical marijuana market is expected to reach a value of US$ 55, 8 billion by 2025.
As the first African country to legalise the growing of medical marijuana, it appeared that Lesotho was on course to reap the rewards especially after the government issued licences to some companies to grow the product for export.
However, the country still has a long way to ensure the viability of the industry with government sources telling this publication that the government is working flat out to finalise the legislation that will govern the operations of companies in the sector.
It has been said that five companies were licensed by the previous seven parties’ coalition government to grow medical marijuana.
The minister of health, Nkaku Kabi was not reachable when this publication sought to gain an insight into the latest developments.
And while Lesotho is still working on the relevant legislation, Zimbabwe appears to have stolen a march after it gazzetted the regulations to govern the production and export of medical marijuana last Friday.
The licences will however, not come cheap as it will cost US$50 000 (M600 000) for a five year licence to grow medical marijuana at one site. Those intending to grow the crop at different sites will have to fork out US$50 000 for each site of production.
On Tuesday, Zimbabwe’s Health Minister, David Parirenyatwa told the Lesotho Times in an exclusive interview that Zimbabwe had moved to legalise the growing of medical marijuana because if its huge potential to grow the country’s economy through exports of cannabis oils for medicinal purposes.
“We will making announcements in due course but for now I can say that medical marijuana will help to grow the economy as there is a huge export market for cannabis oils,” Dr Parirenytwa said.
“The production of medical marijuana will create jobs and will also contribute to nutrition as it is high in proteins.”
Although he would not confirm reports that he was recently in Lesotho on a fact-finding mission on the fledging medical marijuana industry, Dr Parirenytwa said there was a possibility that the two countries would cooperate on medical marijuana.
The government gazette issued on Friday in Zimbabwe and seen by the Lesotho Times provides a clear framework outlining the circumstances under which licences may be issued, the duration, who qualifies as well as the conditions under which medical marijuana may be produced.
Licences will ordinarily be given to Zimbabweans and Zimbabwean companies although foreigners who are resident in Zimbabwe and those who have been given a special dispensation by the health minister can also qualify.
“An application for a licence shall be made to the Minister (of Health), and shall be accompanied by the appropriate fee and three copies of a plan of the site proposed to be licensed,” part of the new law known as the Statutory Instrument 62 of 2018 (Dangerous Drugs – Production of Cannabis for Medicinal and Scientific Use Regulations) states.
“In the case of an individual, proof of citizenship or proof of being ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe or proof of an exemption by the Minister (will be required).
“In the case of a company, proof of citizenship or proof of being ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe of the majority of directors or proof of an exemption by the Minister and proof of incorporation in Zimbabwe of the company are required,” the statutory instrument states.
Unlike Lesotho where the current focus is on growing for export, Zimbabwe is also targeting value addition to achieve greater returns by allowing medical marijuana products like the cannabis oil to be locally produced for export.
“The application shall also contain the following – (a) if applicable, the maximum quantity expressed as net weight in grammes of fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis oil to be produced by the applicant under the licence and the production period . . . and the maximum number of cannabis plants to be sold or provided by the applicant under the licence and the period in which that quantity is to be sold or provided.”
The licence will however, be denied in the event that “information has been received from a peace officer, a competent authority or the United Nations that the applicant has been involved in the diversion of a controlled substance or precursor to an illicit market or use”.
With the regulations firmly in place, Lesotho could soon find itself playing second fiddle to Zimbabwe which already boasts of the infrastructure for commercial agriculture. Zimbabwe has been a world leader in the production of some commercial crops including tobacco and it boasts of extensive infrastructure which includes an efficient road network, a railway system which is connected to the commercial farming areas as well as a cargo freight airline for the export of agricultural and other produce.
Lesotho still stands a chance of claiming a significant share of the lucrative medical marijuana market if the government speedily implements the regulations and provides other forms of support to stimulate production.