US firm sparks new debate on marijuana

Thursday December 02 2021
Marijuana pic
By Alex Nelson Malanga

Dar es Salaam. An American marijuana firm’s intention to invest in Tanzania has prompted debate on whether or not the country should legalise cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.

According to Verified Market Research, the global legal marijuana market size was valued at $20.73 billion in 2020, and is projected to reach $111.31 billion by 2028.

Last week, the US-based Honest Marijuana Company (HMC) announced that it had entered into a partnership with a new chain of medical clinics in Tanzania, to set foot in Africa by producing and selling cannabis.

The announcement, through a platform known as “Benzinga,” said HMC was developing new opportunities in Tanzania through the creation of supply lines to an even more lucrative expansion opportunity: Europe.

Benzinga markets itself to a dynamic and innovative financial media outlet that empowers investors with high-quality, unique content that is coveted by Wall Street’s top traders.

Benzinga also markets itself to be the provider of timely and actionable ideas that help users navigate even the most uncertain and volatile markets – doing so in real-time with an unmatched calibre.

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The company says its project has the backing of the government, as well as clergymen of the Catholic and the Anglican churches.

But, while some independent analysts find nothing wrong with cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial use, the clergymen distanced their religious organisations from any involvement with the plan.

“We cannot bless such a move. We cannot agree with any agenda that is injurious to health,” the General Secretary of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC), Father Charles Kitima, told The Citizen.

Father Kitima distanced his Church from Honest Marijuana’s claims that it [the Church] was backing the necessity of medical delivery, supply and services.

“At no point did we ever table and discuss the matter in question. We have never received a guest asking for our support in a project such as that one… Never forget that evil is evil. We cannot legalise marijuana in the name of medicine. Scientists should instead come up with solutions to problems facing our society,” Father Kitima said.

The Ministry of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (Investment) was not aware of Honest Marijuana’s project as of the time that the company announced it.

“This is a cross-cutting issue. Maybe they have started somewhere else within the government before reaching my office,” said the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (Investment), Prof Godius Kahyarara.

But the Kahama Urban constituency lawmaker Jumanne Kishimba – who has made himself a name in debating various topics openly and in a manner that resonates with laymen’s aspirations – said it was high time that the government capitalised on the opportunity, and cashed in on the growing demand for cannabis globally.

Mr Kishimba was of the view that the government should set aside special areas in some selected councils, and fence them off so that they can be used solely for marijuana cultivation for medicinal purposes.

The MP’s long-time call is driven by the potential for the much-needed revenue, saying the economic impact is now bad for most Tanzanians due to the advent of the global Covid-19 viral pandemic.

“As the government searches for more sources of revenue, and as it needs to employ more Tanzanians – and agricultural commodity prices are down – it is high time we embraced the cultivation and selling of marijuana,” the legislator said.

Production, possession, transporting, selling, purchasing or use of cannabis in Tanzania is outlawed under the Drugs and Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Drugs Act, No. 9 of 1995.

Upon conviction, a perpetrator of any of the offences is liable to a fine of Sh1 million, or three times the market value of the prohibited item, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 20 years – or to both the fine and imprisonment.


Leading consumers in East Africa

The law notwithstanding, available researches show that Tanzanians consume more marijuana than any of their East African Community (EAC) counterparts.

In its 2019 report, the UK’s New Frontier Data ranked Tanzania fifth in Africa, with 3.6 million of its citizens said to take marijuana.

In EAC, Tanzania comes first after Kenya and Uganda, which have 3.3 million and 2.6 million marijuana consumers respectively.

According to New Frontier Data, top consumers in Africa are Nigeria (with 20.8 million users), Ethiopia (7.1 million), Egypt (5.9 million), and DR Congo (5 consumers).

The Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (Policy, Parliamentary Affairs, Labour, Employment, Youth and the Disabled), Ms Jenista Mhagama, said in November 2019 that, although the government was making progress in the fight against narcotic drugs, it was finding it difficult to contain the growing of marijuana in the six regions of Mara, Tanga, Morogoro, Arusha, Kagera and Ruvuma.


Legalising cannabis

In 2017, Lesotho became the first nation to legalise cannabis on the continent, followed last by Zimbabwe and Morocco.

Across the African region, there have been a number of movements regarding medicinal cannabis legalisation during the past four years.

In February 2020, Malawi approved a law that de-criminalises cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.

Available data show that, as of October 2021, four companies had already rolled out the exercise of cultivating medicinal/industrial hemp in Malawi with the country’s Cannabis Regulatory Authority (CRA) saying it had licensed a total of 89 companies to grow hemp for medicinal and industrial purposes.

In Uganda, production of cannabis for medicinal purposes is legal, and the government issued guidelines in January 2020 for individuals and companies seeking to grow or export marijuana for medicinal purposes. In the guidelines, such individuals and companies are required to have a minimum capital of $5 million and a bank guarantee of Ush4 billion (about Sh2.5 billion).

Also in Uganda, investors engaging in growing and exporting marijuana are required to present a tax clearance certificate from the Uganda Revenue Authority, as well as lists of employees and their job descriptions, a valid trading licence, evidence of value-addition to cannabis and audited accounts.

The marijuana farms/sites must not be located near schools, hospitals or residential areas. In the case of any associates/business partners, the details must be disclosed to the government, including site designs and a robust security system with access control systems and intrusion systems.

In July this year (2021), Rwanda passed a new order that legalises medical use of cannabis – and has since issued a Ministerial Order governing cannabis and its products.

However, consumption of cannabis products for recreational purposes remains illegal in that neighbouring country.

On May 20, 2021, Zambia enacted two laws – the Cannabis Act, 2021 and the Industrial Hemp Act, 2021 – in efforts to permit the production and export of cannabis for medicinal and export purposes.

The laws provide for the regulation of the cultivation, production, storage and distribution of cannabis for medicinal, scientific and research purposes.