Security sector to vet mbanje farmers

HARARE - The security sector will play an active role in the production and regulation of cannabis (mbanje or dagga) to be grown for medicinal or scientific purposes, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said.

Early this year, government legalised the production of mbanje upon acquiring a licence and subject to meeting set requirements.

This was done through Statutory Instrument 62 of 2018, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs — Production of Cannabis for Medicinal and Scientific Use Regulations.

Government had to put brakes on the licensing of applicants after receiving a deluge of requests, amid the realisation that it had rushed to invite applications before putting in place sufficient measures to guard against potential abuse of cannabis.

But speaking during a question and answer session at the sixth annual Agribusiness Conference held at the Exhibition Park last week, Mnangagwa emphasised the need for the involvement of security forces, among them the army, police and intelligence services, to complement the ministry of Health.

“Wherever in the world where it (mbanje) has been allowed, there are strongest conditions for it to be grown. Under our Statutory Instrument, we are regulating how it should be grown,” Mnangagwa said.

“It must have maximum security. That is why the security sector should be involved. You must get a licence for you to satisfy the requirements we made. For now, it is a security restricted area.

“We want to separate industrial cannabis from the ordinary cannabis (mbanje) and we have put it in legislation that is being championed by the ministry of Health and Child Care,” he said.

Since taking over from former president Robert Mugabe last year with the help of the army, Mnangagwa’s administration has been heavily reliant on the security sector.

Government’s ongoing Command Agriculture programme is largely driven by the Zimbabwe National Army in terms of logistical and other support.

Zimbabwe has joined Lesotho, the only African country that allows the production of marijuana for medicinal and research purposes.

Mbanje is legal in 29 states in the United States.

According to medical experts, mbanje has many medicinal benefits which include relieving pain, insomnia, anxiety and reducing pain in treating epileptic patients.

Some of the requirements that would-be producers of mbanje must fulfil is a detailed description of the method that the applicant proposes to use for keeping records.

At the time the decision to legalise the production of cannabis was made, Zimbabweans expressed mixed feelings on the matter.

For instance, civil society activist Brian Kagoro strongly argued that due process was not followed.

He felt that such a fundamental decision should have been discussed in Parliament.

Former vice president Joice Mujuru said government was being irresponsible, adding that the decision would ruin lives.

However, the decision was not without its takers with Zanu PF activist Nick Mangwana hailing the move, saying Mnangagwa has ushered in “a very open and free political space”.

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme also weighed in saying there was no legal, medical or economic justification to ban farming of cannabis apart from some restrictions and laws inherited from the colonial times.

“Cannabis is a good forex cash cow and has much health and medicinal benefits. The ED regime has done well. They should actually remove all sanctions, laws and other restrictions to its farming,” said Saungweme.

“They should actually encourage small-scale and informal farming of the plant just like people grow own vegetables or maize on their backyards. Bravo ED for that.”

In line with the gazetted regulations, mbanje growers will be required to pay an annual return fee of $15 000.

An application to renew a producer’s licence will cost $20 000 and a licence to conduct research on cannabis is pegged at $5 000.

An application for renewal of a licence to conduct research on cannabis will cost $2 500, application for variation or amendment of a licence $2 500, application for import/export licence $5 000 and inspection licence $2 500.

The Health minister has powers to audit the activities of the licensed producer with respect to cannabis.

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