HA MARAKABEI – One of the pioneering local medical cannabis companies, Medigrow, is getting closer to reaping the fruits of its first-ever production since acquiring the license in April 2017.
Upon securing the license the company did not waste any time as they immediately hit the ground running with the medical marijuana project and finally the first batch of its production is set for the market in the first week of March, according to company’s public relations officer, Mpho Sefali.
Though she was not at liberty to reveal the amount of money involved or the quantity of the product that will be sent to the market, it is known that shortly after the first batch, many more batches are set to follow at later stages.
“We are hoping to sell the first batch in the first or second week of March, however, we are not sure about the quantity at the moment,” Sefali said in an interview with Public Eye on Tuesday.
Since Lesotho became the first country in Africa to legalise the growing of medical marijuana in 2017, several companies have been licenced to grow medical cannabis but it is only Medigrow that has already declared going to the market in March while other companies have not even started operations.
Minister of Health Nkaku Kabi expressed concern over companies that have been granted licences but are not doing anything on the ground. He reiterated that such companies would not get their licences renewed because they would have failed.
In the very beginning licences were initially issued for free. Then initially, prospective cannabis growers were charged over M500, 000 per company, however the price has since been increased to a staggering M5 million per issuance.
The government has also revoked earlier licenses issued during the past regime, which were issued at virtually no charge, saying the non-operationalisation of such registered players was tantamount to their being defunct.
“This is because we have noticed that it is very expensive to set up and run this type of a project though we have also learned that it makes good sums of profits.
“So the increase in licenses is to say people should be well equipped financially before thinking of jumping into the project. Making it expensive means only people who are determined and with proper understanding of the industry will come forward,” Kabi said during his tour to the Medigrow plant in Marakabei on Friday last week.
The medical marijuana company has spent close to M300 million to set up the infrastructure in the area, including hiring quality expertise.
More plants are yet to be built around the country.
As expensive as it is to kick-start the project of this nature, it also comes with massive returns once the product is ready for the market.
In the case of Medigrow, the company is expected to produce 12 thousand litres of the medical cannabis oil a year with the return estimates of M8 billion.
The minister agrees that the industry has potential to revive and permanently improve the country’s economy if well taken care of, calling for all stakeholders to take care of investors in the now booming cannabis industry in Lesotho.
He also emphasised that there is need on the side of the government to level the playing field for people to be able to acquire different expertise in the medical cannabis industry so that Basotho can also run the industry in future.
Despite the growing interest and prospects in the industry, many Basotho have said the medical marijuana industry appears to be exclusively tailored for foreigners or very few as locals cannot afford the exorbitant fees being charged on licenses.
Some indigenous cannabis growers have also raised concerns that they are being side-lined as the local Matekoane crop is still classified as illegal to grow and deal with, while they believe it could possess superior medical properties to the imported crop.
Experts, however, say medical cannabis production is specialised and has to meet stringent international narcotics laws especially given the fact that since its most important by-products are for medicinal use there are health implications which demand protection from undesirable impurities.