Lusaka - Africa seems to be catching up with the global pattern of legalising of marijuana for health purposes and also as a new source of income for treasuries.
The legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes has been on the steady rise, especially in the West.
African countries, especially in southern Africa, are catching up with the international trend – amid different opinions over the decriminalisation of hemp.
In Zambia, plans to legalise the growing and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has raised a tiff, with some seeking court intervention in the matter.
Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya said the government is considering the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
This came after several unsolicited proposals for licences to cultivate the herb for medicinal use.
Chilufya told the media last week that the government is overwhelmed by the call to regularise marijuana to complement medicines.
“We have received unsolicited proposals for licences for cultivating marijuana for medicinal purposes. Our position, as government, remains consistent, like I presented in Parliament.
“Government will only consider the issuance of such licences for medicinal use, there being evidence and assurance that there is an encrypted process from cultivation to the point where the product is being used for medicinal purposes without triggering any spike in the recreational use of marijuana,” the minister said.
A multi-sectoral committee has since been constituted and is expected to undertake study tours to countries where the growth of marijuana for medical purposes is allowed.
Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo is also supporting the cultivation of cannabis “so long as it is used for good purposes”.
However, the Drug Enforcement Commission, the regulatory body of the narcotic and psychotropic substances said cultivation of hemp in Zambia is illegal.
Minister Kampyongo disclosed in Parliament that there is a law providing for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes, referring to Section 9 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act Cap 96.
A licence or authority granted by the minister will be subject to certain conditions including the payment of a fee in respect to the licence as the minister deems fit. According to Section 6 of the Dangerous and Drugs Act Cap 95, the minister may, by regulation, provide for controlling or restricting the production, possession, sale and distribution of drugs to which this part applies.
However, the Drug Enforcement Commission of Zambia maintains that the cultivation of hemp remains illegal and people risk prosecution, according to spokeswoman, Theresa Katongo.
“We wish to clarify that cannabis cultivation is still illegal in Zambia unless one has lawful authority to cultivate for medicinal purposes as indicated in the Ministers statement,” Katongo said in a statement.
The contravention of the anti-drug law attracts a substantial fine and an imprisonment term of up to 10 years.
“All Zambians need to apprise themselves with the Dangerous Drugs Act Cap 95 of the Laws of Zambia and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act Cap 96 of the Laws of Zambia,” the anti-drug body warned.
Zambian entrepreneur and leader of However Green Party is the chief advocate for the legalisation of cannabis.
He recently urged the government to complement conventional medicine with marijuana for medicinal purposes and that if appreciated can earn the country an average US$3 billion per annum.
Sinkamba also sought court redress for judicial review after Minister Chilufya’s initial refusal to grant him a licence for the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Sinkamba argues further that the ministry of health failed to appreciate the framework of the law whose purpose is to provide access to cannabis for those with qualifying medical needs and was therefore ultra-vires and unreasonable.
Scientific evidence is abounding regarding the use of medicinal marijuana and other countries in the region have either legalised or started the process of regularising the cultivation of medicinal marijuana.
In 2017, the Lesotho Ministry of Health granted South African medical company, Verve Dynamics, a licence to cultivate, process and market marijuana for medicinal purpose.
Verve Dynamics prides itself as “a dedicated Vegan-friendly manufacturer of highly purified botanical extracts and specialty ingredients sourced exclusively by us from around the world”.
This week, Zimbabwe suspended the decision to licence marijuana that was made last month citing the need to carry out a feasibility study before implementing the new law. Zimbabwe had become the second African country to legalise the cultivation of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes. However, illegal cultivation and possession of mbanje, as marijuana is known in Zimbabwe, attracts 12 years of imprisonment.
Other countries in SADC, including Malawi and South Africa, are also toying with the idea of going the same route like Lesotho.