Zimbabwe has loosened its regulations surrounding the growing of medical cannabis, aka Mbanje or dagga. But the move is not without controversy and reveals the country’s complicated relationship with the drug.
Zimbabwe recently authorized licenses to grow cannabis for medical or research purposes. Previously, it was illegal to possess, consume or cultivate the plant, with violations leading to harsh penalties of up to 12 years in prison. Now, after many delays in the implementation of the regulations, licenced companies and individuals can grow the plant.
Earlier this month, the country approved the licence for its first medical cannabis company, Precision Cannabis Therapeutics Zimbabwe—located roughly 45 minutes outside Harare—at the cost of USD$46,000 (approx CAD $61,700).
Zimbabwe is the second country on the continent of Africa to have legalized the cultivation of cannabis, with Lesotho having begun to issue cultivation licences in 2017. The latter country has enjoyed major financial and economic benefits as a result of the legislation.
Licences are to be renewed every five years, and permits authorized growers to grow, sell, possess, and transport cannabis flower and oil.
Candidates must disclose plans for quantity, sales, production period and the site, itself, upon applying for a licence. The government has stated that applicants who are deemed to be a risk to public health and safety will not be authorized to cultivate.
Some Zimbabweans are saying that one of the risks to public health and safety is the fact that growers must pay a significant fee in order to be permitted to grow cannabis commercially. Critics allege that the cost will block poor farmers from transitioning to legal growing in areas that already produce large amounts of illicit cannabis, such as Binga.
“If people are growing tobacco and are not paying any licence fees, then people should not pay $50,000 for producing cannabis because it will be exported for foreign currency,” Uzumba MP Simbaneuta Medarikawa told the Zimbabwe Mail.
The drug also faces social stigma. In a recent piece in Bulawayo 24 News, the author alleged that the new cultivation regs were “a move set to create an industry likely to lure a breed of high-risk, high-return investors,” and repeatedly expresses “concerns that this might result in an increase in cannabis use and associated harms,” such as psychosis.