Oil extracted from locally grown medical cannabis is expected to sell at up to M8-billion in Canada where it has been exported to by farming company Medigrow Lesotho which has just made its first harvest, in what is arguably an unprecedented milestone by Lesotho’s standards.
The company, which is licensed to cultivate medical cannabis and manufacture cannabis oil products, produces the plant at Marakabei more than 100k east of Maseru, a project designed to produce high quality contaminant free medical cannabis based oil for a global distribution.
Medical cannabis oil is known to reduce stress, and pain; to boost hear health and help for skin problems. According to experts, medical cannabis can also help control epileptic seizures, and reverse the cancer-causing effects of tobacco thereby improving lung health.
According to health minister Nkaku Kabi, Medigrow – which employs about 300 Basotho at its 45 000 square metre farming and processing plant – informed the ministry it had produced 12 000 litres of cannabis oil which is expected to generate about M8-billion in Canada.
In an interview with theReporter, Kabi indicated that Lesotho had the go-ahead from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to issue licenses for the production of cannabis for medicinal purposes only. He said the government and other stakeholders were considering issuing affordable licenses for the licensing of hemp production. Industrial hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant species that can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing and biofuel, among others.
“Basotho farmers who are interested in producing industrial would be issued licenses at as little as M5000, a far cry from the M500 000 paid for medical cannabis. Lesotho has not yet decided on the legalisation of recreational cannabis production like in Holland, Canada and some parts of South Africa. Cannabis licensing is expensive because the INCB wants to enforce regulation of recreational and medical or industrial production.
“At M60million, the cost of erecting a dagga greenhouse is so expensive that few people can afford it; the seeds are procured from overseas. The people who would operate and manage a greenhouse are highly skilled,” said Kabi.
The minister revealed there were companies and individuals who had shown interest in the dagga (recreational cannabis) that is grown illegally in villages around the country, because there was an existing market for it already. He went on to warn Basotho farmers not to sell their licenses to third parties after acquiring them for the production of cannabis.
“At the moment our focus is on ensuring the sustainability of the production of medical cannabis, which requires a lot of effort to maintain. For example, lighting in a greenhouse has to be on around the clock to ensure constant growth; this in turn guarantees all year round harvesting. This is a costly exercise. We also need to build laboratories in the country to ensure benefits accrue to Basotho at all stages of production.
“Workers would be paid well so they are not tempted to commit corruption. In a similar vein members of the licensing board should also be paid well so they do not end up accepting bribes.
“INCB said it was up to us to manage the production of dagga well until such time that they would allow us to issue other licenses. We are still at an infancy stage, so it is not easy to comment on our expectations in terms of the revenue generated from cannabis production or its contribution to Lesotho’s GDP,” said Kabi.
He disclosed that 59 licenses have so far been issued to different farmers who have been given a mandate to maximise production and generate money for the country.
In conclusion, the minister revealed plans to set up a pharmacy in Lesotho for the sale of cannabis oil which would be used to treat chronic illnesses.
Meanwhile, Medigrow Lesotho spokesman Mosae Ntlatlaba said his company had customers in different markets around the world, but would not be drawn into commenting on the proceeds they would make from the sale of cannabis oil.