Blunt, joint, intsangu, ganja; just a few synonyms of that globally renowned green leaf – marijuana, known here in Lesotho as ‘matekoane’.
At 1400km above sea level, Lesotho has the highest low point of any country in the world; the phrase that ‘for Lesotho the sky is the limit’ is spot on. As it is, Lesotho’s environment offers ideal conditions for the cultivation of marijuana. Local strains include ‘mpetu’, ‘tarakope’ and ‘qacha’.
The mountain kingdom has become a noted contender in the global cannabis conversation as well. Much recognition is given to our government by the international community in being pioneers on the African continent with the legalisation of marijuana production for medicinal purposes. This multi-billion dollar industry, in which Lesotho can now profitably participate, is a great step in potentially offering a lucrative ripple effect of opportunity and development for our economy.
There is the argument that it is unfair to expect local farmers to produce the strain of marijuana considered as medicinal as opposed to our local strain. To that, perhaps we can look at it as so – one cannot enter a match once it’s started and think to dictate the terms by which it is played. Our economy needs a confidence injection now, and an African foothold in the production gains of the international medicinal cannabis industry is a strong achievement.
There are several companies which have already been granted licenses, such as Medi-Kingdom Holdings – a pharmaceuticals and biotech-based company in the UK. It first partnered with Lesotho in 2016, with plans to expand its project to 35, 000m2 in 2018. This will position Lesotho as one of the largest exporting medical cannabis producers in the world.
Medi-Kingdom also has a registered NGO charity foundation, that has over the past two years locally distributed medicine and food to the worth of more than US$500 000. The organization works in partnership with other NGOs to cater to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in our country.
The nation’s issuing of medical cannabis licenses has and continues to draw foreign interest and investment. Last year, our Ministry of Health granted another African first, when it licensed a South African firm in Somerset-West, Verve Dynamics, to cultivate marijuana in Lesotho for medical and scientific research purposes.
It is evident that at this moment in time, production of dominant accredited strains is the most feasible way to become contributors in this booming emergent market. The rights of Basotho that benefit from the job creation must be protected and prioritised to empower us and our stake in operations.
Following the Drugs of Abuse (Cannabis) Regulations, 2018 Act that came into effect as of 18 May, M10 000 affords you a license that solely permits the storage of medical marijuana. In order to cultivate, distribute, and export, one requires a license with an associated price tag of M500 000, renewable at M350 000.
Zimbabwe took to Lesotho’s example and legalised the growing of medical marijuana earlier this year in April, although the equivalent licenses carry heavier costs. These amounts are, for majority of our local populace, barriers to entry and participation in the industry.
Certified medicinal marijuana is, first and foremost, an approved health allowance to its beneficiaries who suffer with ailments ranging from epilepsy, seizures, cancer and glaucoma, to depression. Responsible and institutionalized/legislated moderation should facilitate conducive gains for the buyer, seller, and our people alike as one of the significant producers in the global arena.
We should all take pride in the unique opportunities that this land, this soil that we struggle and stand on, continues to breed for us, as well as in our potential capacity to meet such opportunities with enterprise.