The first two matekoane (cannabis) production companies on the African continent have been given administrative approval by Lesotho’s Ministry of Health.
The government decided to legalize the cultivation of medical cannabis with the hope of creating conditions that allow foreign investors to produce and export medical cannabis in Lesotho. In June 2017, Lesotho’s Ministry of Health granted South African medical company Verve Dynamics an official licence for the cultivation of matekoane for medical and scientific purposes.
“The government’s decision to move forward with this historic decision means that Lesotho will play a significant role in developing this industry, both locally and internationally, as well as establishing itself as a pioneer on the African continent with regards to state-of-the-art extraction equipment,” the company said in a statement released at the time.
This month, a California-based company announced it holds the second cultivation licence, thanks to the acquisition of South African company Pharmaceuticals Development Corp LTD (PDC).
“In terms of international sales, Corix Bioscience spent the last three months of 2017 paving way for the global market,” the statement read.
“By acquiring Pharmaceutical Development Corp LTD in South Africa, Corix attained the first licence issued by Lesotho that enables them to import and export cannabis and cannabis resin in various forms.”
While cannabis possession and sales are prohibited, cannabis cultivation itself is allowed in Lesotho. Violations are not sanctioned in practice and the plant enjoys a de facto decriminalised status.
According to various reports, the whole of Lesotho’s society and much of the country’s law enforcement turn a blind eye to cannabis-related crimes. Both South Africa and the UN have criticised Lesotho’s lax attitude toward cannabis farmers for decades.
Many ethnic tribes in Lesotho have been cultivating hemp and using the plant medicinally and culturally for at least 600 years.
Although cannabis cultivation was banned until the end of the British Crown in 1966, one of the main demands of the independence movement was the re-legalisation of cannabis. The new government soon tolerated cultivation, but never implemented a corresponding law.
Despite the official ban, commercial cannabis growers in Lesotho have been able to cultivate cannabis for years without interference. Hordes of miners who had previously worked in the South African mining industry in the 1990s returned to Lesotho after finding themselves out of work. The miners working in South Africa would send money home to Lesotho. But when they returned, the flailing economy struggled to provide enough money. An easy cash crop, cannabis filled the financial gaps and turned the crisis-ridden small state into the main supplier for South Africa’s illegal “dagga”-market.
Although the government has taken its first steps toward legalisation, Lesotho remains the biggest illegal cannabis producing country in the area. The lion’s share of Lesotho’s existing cannabis farms will not be affected by the current medical cannabis market conditions.