Zimbabwe government suspends cannabis farming licensing

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HARARE – Government has suspended the licensing and growing of marijuana — popularly known as mbanje.

Last month, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration gazetted licence fees for those interested in growing cannabis (mbanje) for research and medicinal purposes.

This was seen as part of strategies to shore up revenue flows to the depressed fiscus.

The development, which had divided opinion in the hugely polarised southern African nation, had made Zimbabwe the second country in Africa to legalise cultivation of the plant after the tiny kingdom of Lesotho announced the continent’s first licence to grow cannabis legally last year.

Until now, it had been illegal to grow, possess or use cannabis in Zimbabwe, with offenders facing up to 12 years in jail.

But in an interview with the Daily News on Sunday last Thursday, deputy Finance minister Terrence Mukupe said the licensing of the dangerous high-street value drug had been put on ice to enable government to plug loopholes that might arise in future.

Mukupe revealed there has been an overwhelming response to the licences, with over 350 applications being made to the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ), which is responsible for protecting public and animal health by ensuring that accessible medicines and allied substances and medical devices are safe, effective and of good quality through enforcement or adherence to standards by manufacturers and distributors.

“All the applications had been submitted to MCAZ, but what has since happened is that MCAZ has put everything on hold,” he said, adding “ . . . the response was quite overwhelming”.

“MCAZ has put on hold licensing until they are pretty clear in terms of all the modalities like; how do we actually implement?” Mukupe said.

He said government needed to conduct a “proper feasibility study” first.

“When I was talking to the deputy minister of Agriculture, he told me that they had over 350 applications. The expectations of most of the applicants was that they will be allowed to grow mbanje on their farms, and then there is so much difference in terms of what people are asking for . . . we had a Dutch investor whose proposal was saying that all he needed was 60 hectares and out of 60 hectares he was talking of making as much as $100 million to $200 million annually, and then we have another investor who was saying that he needs 10 000 hectares and out of 10 000 hectares he was talking of making about $100 million to $200 million as well. There is too much of a difference.”

“What has to be done on our side as government is probably to have a proper feasibility study and have experts telling us what’s actually the truth . . . when you go over the 350 applications the difference in numbers and what they are talking about; it’s crazy,” Mukupe said.

However, the deputy Finance minister said “there is definitely money to be made from mbanje farming”.

“If anything, it could end up being a billion-dollar crop for us within probably a four, five-year period, easily. But the president is clear that if we are going to carry this out, it has to be in a highly-controlled environment,” he said, further stating, “and probably we have to carry out the farming of marijuana on State-owned farms for easier regulation and also away from people. Places like Gwebi College where there is no neighbourhood and they have got the land…areas like Kushinga Pikhelela where there is land and it’s in the middle of nowhere . . . your prison farms like Mazowe Prison Farm . . . those sort of areas that’s where it will be ideal to grow something like that”.

The five-year renewable licences will allow growers to possess, transport and sell fresh and dried cannabis as well as cannabis oil.

Applications should include plans of the growing site, quantity to be produced and sold and the production period.

A licence can be refused when information has been received from a “peace officer, a competent authority or the United Nations that an applicant was involved in the diversion of a controlled substance or precursor to an illicit market or use”, the regulations said.

“The minister may not oblige if the issuance, renewal or amendment of the licence is likely to create a risk to public health, safety or security.”

According to the Government Gazette issued by Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa, mbanje growers would be required to pay an annual return fee of $15 000, while an application to renew a producer’s licence will cost $20 000 and a licence to conduct research on cannabis had been pegged at $5 000.

An application for renewal of a licence to conduct research on cannabis will cost $2 500, application for variation or amendment of a licence $2 500, application for import/export licence $5 000 and inspection licence $2 500.

“An application for the issue of a licence in terms of section 27 of the Act shall be made to the minister, in duplicate and shall be accompanied by the appropriate fee and three copies of a plan of the site proposed to be licensed which shall comply with the requirement specified in these regulations,” the gazette said.

“In 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; and a declaration, signed and dated by the proposed authorised person in charge, stating that the authorised person in charge, the proposed responsible person in charge and, if applicable, the proposed alternate responsible person in charge, are familiar with the provisions of the Act (will be required),” it said.

Zimbabwe has been debating legalisation of medicinal cannabis production as the government seeks new revenue streams for its agricultural economy.

Last year, Obert Mpofu, the then Investment Promotion minister, said a Canadian firm had applied to the government for a permit to produce the drug in planned special economic zones designed to lure foreign investors.

Zimbabwe is already one of southern Africa’s biggest tobacco producers, exporting much of its crop to China.

Africa is second only to the Americas in terms of production and consumption of marijuana, according to the United Nations’ 2017 World Drug Report.

Marijuana’s (scientific name is Cannabis sativa) leaves, seeds, stems and/or roots are consumed by marijuana users for the purpose of feeling intoxicated.

THC, or tetrahydrocannibinol, is one of the hundreds of compounds within marijuana that has major intoxicating effects.

Marijuana that is consumed for medical purposes, like for patients with nausea or poor appetite associated with Aids or cancer treatment, is legal in a few states of the United States.

Possession of marijuana, regardless of its purpose, is illegal in most jurisdictions.

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illegal substance worldwide.

While the number of people who use marijuana at any one time does not seem to have recently increased, the number of people who have a marijuana-related disorder has risen significantly. This is more or less true depending on age and ethnic group.

Medical marijuana, also called marinol (Dronabinol), is a synthetic form of marijuana.

There are many ways of referring to marijuana itself, as well as for how it is smoked.

The history of marijuana goes back for thousands of years. It was only made illegal in many countries during the 20th century. – Daily News