THE government now has more than 50 licences for the production of medical cannabis with an expectation to create 30 000 jobs.
This was revealed by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane during a recent press briefing in Maseru.
In 2017, Lesotho became the first African country to legalise the growing of medical marijuana (cannabis) amid high expectations that it 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 by 2021.
According to the Grand View Research Inc, the global medical marijuana market is expected to reach US$55, 8 billion by 2025.
However, 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.
But the country still has a long way to ensure the viability of the industry with Minister Kabi last December saying that of the 33 people who acquired licences to grow medical marijuana, only 13 had paid the M540 000 for their operators’ licenses at the time.
And in March this year, Mr Kabi announced that the government had increased the licence fees for growing medical marijuana from M500 000 to M5 million to discourage entities which secure licenses for speculative purposes.
The new licensing regime, which came into effect on 1 March 2019, is also meant to ensure that all licenced companies have the capacity to venture into the industry.
The minister said it is important for licence holders to demonstrate a certain level of progress so that their licenses may be renewed. An operator’s license has to be renewed annually.
“We have embarked on this campaign because we want to see progress made by the license holders since we believe they had applied for those licenses for a reason,” Mr Kabi said.
“We want to see the facilities being set up and physical structure on the ground, bearing in mind the magnitude of this type of business and the finances that are needed to operate it.”
He said while the industry is highly profitable, it is also capital intensive.
“For this reason, we have increased the licence fees from M500 000 to M5 million. For instance, to be at the stage of production it is at the moment, Medigrow Lesotho has already raised M300 million, with more costs still to be incurred.
“This says to us that the industry is highly capital-intensive, although it is also highly profitable. I understand that at full production capacity, this facility will produce about 12 000 litres of cannabis oil per annum, which can raise revenue of over M2 billion per annum.”
Some of the licences were issued during the tenure of the previous seven parties’ coalition government headed by Democratic Congress leader Pakalitha Mosisili but before proper regulations were enacted to regulate the industry.
Titled the ‘Drugs of Abuse (Cannabis) Regulations, the regulations subsequently issued by Mr Kabi in May last year pegged the main operating licence – which allows the licensee to engage in several activities ranging from cultivation to export – at M540 000 with its renewal fees costing M350 000.
And addressing the media recently, Dr Thabane said each medical cannabis licence is expected to create at least 3000 jobs.
“The government has already issued more than 50 licences for the legal production of marijuana for medical purposes.
“Each licence is going to create a minimum of 3000 jobs and we are expecting that those that have already been issued with the licences to immediately create many jobs. Therefore, the government is anticipating that more than 30 000 jobs will be created in this sector by the year 2022,” Dr Thabane said.
Dr Thabane’s announcement comes on the back of his deputy, Monyane Moleleki’s recent offensive during the inaugural European Cannabis Week (ECW) which ran from 24 to 29 June in London where he spoke to medical cannabis industry practitioners.
Mr Moleleki said Lesotho is one of the few countries in the world that provide the best conditions for the production of high quality medical cannabis. He said the progress that Lesotho has made towards the development of the industry is nothing short of astounding.
Mr Moleleki said: “At a difficult time in southern Africa where economic growth is sluggish and climate change is causing hardship for the country, the emerging medical cannabis industry is a pragmatic and progressive solution to the challenges facing not only our own kingdom of Lesotho but the region, the continent and the rest of the world”.
“Innovation in agriculture and manufacturing sectors is among key priorities for the government of Lesotho. The creation of jobs is critical to our goal of eliminating inequality and eradicating poverty.”
He said the country was under no illusions that it would take a lot to overcome the challenges in harnessing the full potential of the cannabis industry.
“Overcoming these challenges is difficult…. We understand that it will not be easy for Basotho.
“But as our beloved brother from South Africa, the iconic Nelson Mandela famously said, ‘it always seems impossible until it is done’,” Mr Moleleki said, adding Lesotho was doing well to attract foreign investors in its cannabis sector.
“The growth of the medical cannabis industry in Lesotho has been nothing short of astounding. We are seeing a significant number of international medical cannabis companies investing in our country.
“They are drawn to our Mountain Kingdom not only by its beautiful and pristine nature but also because Lesotho is also one of the few areas on earth to cultivate and manufacture high quality medical cannabis.
“While there is much to be proud of, there is more that needs to be to done to ensure that Lesotho takes its place at the forefront,” Mr Moleleki said.