Cannabis firms to lose licences

Cannabis firms to lose licences

MASERU – Cannabis firms that haven’t renewed their licences in the past two years are set to lose them as part of measures Health Minister Nkaku Kabi said were meant to weed out “chance takers” holding the nascent industry to ransom.

The measures to jolt a potentially lucrative but largely dormant dagga growing industry will see those wishing to obtain licences required to first prove that they have the necessary capital to drive production and the markets to sell their produce, he said.

“If you have failed to renew your licence for two years it should be a given that you no longer have a licence,” said Kabi, speaking during a tour this week of Hemp Africa (Pty) Ltd’s cannabis farm in Thabana Tšooana, Berea.

HAL, which is eyeing exports to Europe, is one of only four firms in production in the country out of 140 issued with licences since 2017, a situation Kabi said was unacceptable and depriving the country of potential earnings from growing and exporting the crop.

“It is almost three years since we ventured into this industry, yet we have nothing to show for it. Things need to change and fast. We can no longer afford to be sympathetic (to idle licence holders) or drag our feet,” Kabi said.
He added that licences have previously been issued more because those given to carry out the task sympathised with an applicant and not necessarily because that particular applicant had the skills or financial wherewithal to run a commercial cannabis production venture.

As a result firms and individuals with real capacity to grow the industry failed to get licences while, according to Kabi, chancers and speculators with neither funds nor skills got them.
Some of those that got licences without either the know-how or cash to farm have instead resorted to selling the crucial permits, Kabi said, adding this turn of events has hobbled an industry the government sees as having lots of potential to generate jobs and foreign exchange earnings.

“I am concerned by issued licences which are not being put to use but rather exchanging hands, being sold from one person to the next,” Kabi said.
He said new and tighter rules will be implemented to ensure only serious investors were issued with licences.
As part of restructuring and tightening of industry laws a new cannabis board is set to be appointed after the old one was dismantled.
The formation of the new board is awaiting representatives from the Chief Justice, Attorney General and the Ministry of Tourism through the Department of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).

Under the planned new regime prospective investors will not get away with merely claiming to have foreign markets but will be required to take government officials to foreign countries to meet with potential buyers as proof that they indeed have the market contacts, the minister said.
He said with Zimbabwe and Zambia already in the cannabis industry and South Africa reportedly planning to enter the fray it was time Lesotho put its act together and ensure it has more success stories than HAL and the three other producers.

“Zimbabwe and Zambia have entered the arena and I have heard that South Africa is also planning to enter. It would be amiss if we fail to reap benefits of this industry as pioneers,” Kabi said.
Boasting an 8000m2 greenhouse production facility at its 65-hectare farm, HAL is ample evidence that the government’s plans for a modern and high technology cannabis industry for Lesotho are achievable given the necessary regulatory framework and funding.

“This is the beginning, we are planning to become one of the biggest employers in the industry and at this rate with 49 employees and more than 50 to be employed we will achieve that,” HAL chief executive Mark Palestine said.

Lemohang Rakotsoane


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