All countries in Africa have an opportunity before them to exploit the international demand for medical cannabis. Most are certainly capable of cultivating it on a large scale. They have the ideal climate for it, and currently, the global market for cannabis-based products sits at $3 billion. As legalization spreads to countries and U.S. states, experts predict the market will grow to a whopping $56 billion.
African governments are typically conservative, however. There is a fear of encouraging the use of recreational drugs, and most nations are hesitant to jump into the business. Reluctance was never going to last, and now, Lesotho just made cultivation in Africa a reality by issuing the continent’s very first medical marijuana license.
The government of Lesotho recently granted a local subsidiary of the South African company Verve Dynamics a license to grow, manufacture, supply, export, and distribute cannabis and cannabis-derived products from the tiny country. The South African branch of Verve Dynamics specializes in producing medicines from indigenous plants.
The company did groundbreaking work on a South African succulent, Sceletium tortuosum. People have been using the herb for centuries as an effective tranquilizer, calling it by local names Kougoed, Kanna, and Channa. Records exist showing that Jan van Riebeeck was using it with his crew from the Drommedaris back in 1662.
The managing director of the Verve Dynamics Group, Richard Davies, holds the patent to Trimesemine™, the company’s Sceletium tortuosum-based product. It has a benefit-sharing arrangement in place with the Khoi-Khoi, a local South African community, for Sceletium products. Verve Dynamics plans to establish a similar profit-sharing deal with communities in Lesotho for medical cannabis products.
The use of marijuana for medicine involves using all parts of the plant, including the stems, leaves, roots, seeds, and flowers. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, requires comprehensive analysis of at least 100 000 subjects to determine the risks and benefits of new drugs, it has, due to a lack of such research, yet to approve medical marijuana.
Despite this, out of all 50 states in the U.S., 29 already permit the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, including the capital district of Washington, D.C. Thus far, the FDA has given approval to two synthetic cannabinoid medicines, both in pill form. Cannabis treats most illnesses afflicting us today, from glaucoma to epilepsy, nausea, pain, inflammation, and even addiction and mental disorders.
In an interview, Davies said, “We have been dealing with Afro-botanicals with a medicinal application for the last 15 years. Cannabis has been a product of interest to us for some time due to its medical potential. However, due to the integrity of it in South Africa, we have not had access to it.” Therefore, the company took its business elsewhere.
“Based on the work we had been doing in South Africa, we were afforded the opportunity to present our case to the Lesotho government’s Minister of Health,” Davies continued. “Thereafter, we underwent an extensive six-month due diligence, part of which included a site visit to our South African facility by various departments of Government, including Health, Trade and Industry, Tourism and Agriculture, and the Lesotho Police.”
After acquiring its license, the company began investing in its first, R30-million phase. It will provide employment for 40 local Basotho to cultivate and manufacture cannabis and will adhere to all regulations in Lesotho’s Good Agricultural Practices and Current Good Manufacturing Practice, as well as all regulations governing local and international narcotics and medicines regulations.
When harvests are producing quality buds, workers will process them into cannabis-derived tinctures, capsules, oils, and other consumable medicines. Davies says, “Phase 2 and Phase 3 would be expansion phases based on the market demand for medical cannabis. The greater the demand, the bigger these phases would be, but we anticipate them being at least two to three times the investment of Phase 1.”
“All staff, as far as possible, will be sourced from Lesotho. Initially, some of the manufacturing staff will need to move over from South Africa until we have successfully completed the necessary skills transfer,” Davies added. As the international market continues to grow and diversity, demand will expand with the potential for profit.
“We will be able to sell the product to any country that is legally allowed to buy the product,” continued Davies. “We expect our main markets to be North American and the European Union. I am of the opinion that the revenue potential for Lesotho, as well as the rest of Africa, is obvious. Having the ability to deliver a superior product to the international market at a lower than market-related price is a really good position to be in.”
The venture has no disadvantages for Lesotho. As the first country in Africa to join this growing global business, it will reap all the rewards reserved for pioneers. Of the continent, Davies said, “We are of the view that all African countries could benefit from the legalization of medical cannabis. Africa, particularly Southern Africa, is rich in the resources required to propagate and produce medicinal plants.”
Swaziland, Lesotho’s sister kingdom, is famous worldwide already for its high-quality marijuana, and under the country’s Pharmacy Act, firms could theoretically obtain licenses to manufacture this otherwise prohibited plant. Assistant Superintendent and spokesperson for the Royal Swaziland Police Force, Khulani Mamba, had this to say about it in an interview:
“It has never happened, but someone could seek a license from the Ministry of Health. A board sits to consider applications for producing new medicines in the country.” Outside of this, Swaziland bans marijuana outright. The country obliges its police force to enforce its current laws on recreational drugs, and it authorizes them to arrest any in possession of it and to destroy cannabis fields where found.
Although cannabis has huge potential for other industrial applications, including the use of hemp to make lotions, clothes, ropes, paper, birdseed, and even bricks, Davies believes that only stringent regulation can alleviate widespread concerns about medicinal marijuana paving the way for legalized recreational use in the country, as well.
Davies explained, “When dealing with a consumer good, particularly one that is used for medical treatment, a level of regulation is necessary for the safety of the consumer. There is an ethical responsibility to provide consumers with a predictable and reliable product that is both safe and effective.”
“You cannot just make a home batch of alcohol and sell it to others,” he continued. “These regulations are for public benefit and safety. You can think of cannabis as being the gold rush of our time. Africa can be at the forefront of this industry.” The continent can certainly use the economic boom of legalized marijuana trade to develop their countries and empower their populations.