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‘Cannabis can spur economic revolution’


Bereng Mpaki

The government has awarded five operating licenses to private companies to facilitate the production of medical cannabis, also known as marijuana – in a development seen by many small-scale producers as creating new economic opportunities.

Following this recent development, some producers of recreational cannabis (non-medical and illegal) and medical experts say Lesotho could be on the verge of unleashing a whole new medical cannabis industry that has the potential to contribute significantly to job creation and economic development.

Over the years, Lesotho has been a producer of large quantities of recreational cannabis, also known as matekoane in the local Sesotho language. This produce, until today, continues to illegally find its way onto the South African black market.

The proceeds accrued by illegal Basotho farmers go towards sustaining hundreds of families, particularly in the rural areas.

Mr Kotsoana Potsane is one of Lesotho’s many small producers of recreational marijuana. For years he has been in this illicit business, operating in the foothills of the country and using the profits to look after his family. Despite being illegal, growing matekoane made sense to him, after all, he fetched more money than many maize and sugar bean farmers.

He explains he fetched up to M1,000 for a 20-litre container full of matekoane. Abundant fertile land and perfect climatic conditions, he says, the government should support the production of the medical cannabis (matekoane) by local farmers.

That way, they could increase their production to meet the country’s needs.

“I do not see myself being employment anywhere else. Jobs are scarce here. Through growing matekoane I can look after my family,” Mr Potsane said.

Lesotho has immense potential to become a star producer of high quality cannabis in the Southern Africa region. Mr Potsane says production of recreational cannabis should also be legalized.

“This is an opportunity for the government to ensure they support an organized sector that facilitates production of both medicinal and recreational cannabis for both regional and international market export,” says Mr Potsane.

However, following moves to organize, promote and monitor production of the legal cannabis, there are high hopes that this upcoming sector will grow fast due to the emerging global demand for medical cannabis.

Local farmers have an upper hand, particularly with Lesotho’s favourable climatic conditions and good soils.

In Lesotho, the production of medical cannabis and cannabis resin, is regulated under the Drugs of Abuse Act of 2008, a law that aims to ensure the availability of certain drugs.

Speaking to the Sunday Express last week, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Mr Monaphathi Makara said preparations to support production of medical cannabis was still in its infancy. He explains the need to grow the industry is inspired by the global demand for medical cannabis which is used to treat some health conditions.

“This is a great opportunity for local cannabis farmers to switch from the illegal cultivation of the recreational type to medical. The type of cannabis we are promoting is used in the manufacturing of pain alleviating drugs and it is different from the one used for recreational purposes,” says Mr Makara.

As such, he says there is need to equip local producers with skills on how to produce medical cannabis.

“We have to be clear as to the type of cannabis government is promoting to avoid situations where people will engage in the production of recreational and illegal cannabis under the guise of medical cannabis.”

“The cannabis we are encouraging farmers to grow is used for making medical drugs and does not contain tetrahydocannabinol (THC), which is the active ingredient responsible for making people high.”

He explains how other countries globally are benefitting from medical cannabis and supporting the manufacturing of medicines used to help manage diseases such as cancer, sclerosis and other health conditions.

The biggest issue for his ministry, he explains was to ensure they intensified campaigns that would ensure that communities do not see this development as a license to smoke cannabis.

“We still emphasise that smoking is a health hazard and we are advocating for the production of medical cannabis only to export and grow our economy,” says Mr Makara.

The medical use of cannabis is legal in countries including Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Australia has passed laws to allow the use of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes in some states. In the United States, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation permitting the possession, use, and distribution of medical cannabis in some form.

Research shows that medical cannabis can be administered using a variety of methods, including liquid tinctures, vaporizing or smoking dried buds, eating cannabis edibles, taking capsules, using lozenges, dermal patches or oral/dermal sprays.

However, Mr Makara says the production of the medical cannabis will bring short and long-term economic benefits such as creating jobs, generating foreign currency through exports, creating companies that can process the plant to medicine and produce a number of by products including clothing fabric, cosmetic oils, and insulating material as well as animal feed.

Some cannabis producers interviewed last week say there was need to give Basotho production rights to help reduce unemployment.

Mr Ramahooana Matlosa of Majalefa Development Movement, says many Basotho farmers involved in the cultivation of recreational cannabis for years, need to be empowered to grow the medical brand. “The initiative and intensions are good if the government can ensure the unemployed will benefit.”

He says the awarding of operating licenses should not be limited to only a few companies.

“The current situation gives an impression that the industry might benefit only a few people.”

Mr Matlosa further explains the need to ensure that foreign-owned companies are licensed to buy from local producers as they have access to land for cultivation.

Commenting on the involvement of foreign investors, Mr Makara, the health principal Secretary says out of the five issued operating licenses, only one was a foreign-based company while the rest were owned by Basotho.

“As the government, we believe Basotho have the capacity to produce the required quantities. We will also provide development support to help them grow in this sector. However, foreign firms with advanced technical expertise are also welcome to support development of local skills and taking the sector to higher levels.”



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