Cannabis licensing to be tightened

 

‘. . . only four out of 140 license holders operating’

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – The ministry of health, which is the licensing authority in the cannabis industry, is working on a new approach to strengthen the process to reduce corruption and misuse of the licenses. Health minister Nkaku Kabi expressed concern that out of 140 issued licenses, only four are operational, while the rest have been shelved by owners who have been waiting for investors.

Others have sold the licenses to foreigners at a higher price. Kabi said as a result, his ministry will revoke all the licenses that have not been renewed for the past two years and tighten the criteria of issuing new ones to protect the country’s economy from being held hostage by people who have no expertise and capacity to meaningfully use the licenses.

He noted that for the ministry to ensure that the licenses are used as per the ministry’s regulations, people applying for the license will be compelled to take ministry of health officials to show them the facilities he will be working from at the applicant’ expense before one can be granted the license.

Kabi said this will help the ministry to avoid turning down applicants under the belief enough licenses would have been issued unaware that some of the licenses will not benefit the country as they will be misused.

“The applicant will, at his expense, have to take us overseas if that is where his market is and he will also have to cover everything from transport costs to accommodation. This is to proof beyond reasonable doubt that after issuing licenses we will see work happening on the ground,” Kabi said.

He was speaking at the launch of Hemp Africa cannabis plantation situated in Berea where he further disclosed that the ministry has lately been reluctant to issue cannabis licenses due to the large number of people who have already been granted licenses but are not using them but are selling them instead. Cannabis license holders are expected to be planting and cultivating cannabis and create job opportunities for Basotho and not sell the licenses or wait for potential buyers.

Hemp Africa started operating this week after getting its license last year unlike 140 others that have shelved their licenses. The grower has revived hope that the cannabis industry in Lesotho can shore up the shrinking economy where unemployment keeps rising and a new approach on issuing licenses is what is needed, Kabi said.

He said it is up to Basotho to take the opportunity given to them to cultivate cannabis or not. “Basotho always argue that they are sidelined in issuing cannabis licenses but when they are given the chance to have one, they fail to use it as expected by the health ministry.

“If Basotho fail to set up facilities to plant cannabis, they should at least approach banks for financial assistance instead of shelfing their licenses or they should allow those with capacity and expertise cultivate,” he said.

Out of 140 licenses that have been issued since 2015 when cannabis was legalized for medical use in the country, only four are operational. Kabi said it is embarrassing that for the three years that the country has legalised cannabis cultivation there is nothing to show in terms of economic improvement.

He said the main purpose of legalising cultivation of cannabis is to create employment and grow the country’s economy not to re-sell the licenses, which act he says amounts to economic sabotage. Hemp Africa’s CEO Mark Palestine told this publication that they got the license in January 2019, and signed the contract in May the same year.

Palestine said their business is long term and currently employs 49 locals with intention to hire 50 more people during harvest time which will be around the first week of April. “We will also be hiring more people after finishing another facility and have a plan to expand to have more greenhouses and that will mean more job opportunities for locals,” he said.

 

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