Unpacking the great debate on matekoane

Unpacking the great debate on matekoane

NB.
l The names matekoane or cannabis will be used interchangeably to depict the plant which forms the subject matter of our discussion.
l PS, refers to the Ministry of Health Principal Secretary.
l I, refers to me, Mathabo Julia McCloy. My comments and suggestions are based on my qualifications as a lawyer and herbalist.

It has been very interesting, fascinating and mentally challenging to learn that the Government of Lesotho (GOL) has already licensed one South African company Verve Dynamics based in Cape Town and four local companies to cultivate matekoane in Lesotho. It is also claimed one or more of these companies have already started production in Thaba-Tseka and Qacha`s Nek.

Reported discussions between Ministry of Health PS and Media:
Certainly a good number of people in Lesotho have a good idea of what matekoane is. However, for purposes of this discussion it is necessary and important to clarify exactly what the government has licensed to be cultivated in order to avoid confusion.
For ease of reference we will base our discussions on the discussions between the Ministry of Health Principal Secretary as reported in two local newspapers – the Sunday Express October 1 -28 2017 and thepost October 12-18 2017.

Medicinal v recreational cannabis – is there such a thing?
The PS was quoted as saying: “This is a great opportunity for local cannabis farmers to switch from the illegal cultivation of the recreational type to medicinal. The type of cannabis we are promoting is used in the manufacturing of pain alleviation drugs and it is different from the one used for recreational purposes.” The PS is also claimed to have said “As such, there is need to equip local producers with skills on how to produce medical cannabis.”
He added: “We have to be clear as to the type of cannabis the government is promoting to avoid situations where people will engage in the production of recreational and illegal cannabis under the guise of medical cannabis.”
“The cannabis we are encouraging farmers to grow is used for making medical drugs and does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the active ingredient responsible for making the people high.”
Yet in thepost issue of September 12-18 the same PS is alleged to have said: “Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an active ingredient in the plant that has psychoactive effects, is the “gold” the medical industry wants from marijuana.”
I must say this is a serious and confusing contradiction.
The Health PS continues: “The production of the medical cannabis will bring short and long economic benefits such as creating jobs . . . creating companies that can process the plant to medicine and produce a number of by products including clothing fabric, cosmetic oils and insulating material as well as animal feed.”
Here the PS is clearly confusing the cannabis in question with the cannabis for “industrial” use known as hemp. This is not illegal under international law or domestic laws.

The Sunday Express also quotes a certain Mr Ramahooana Matlosa of Majalefa Development Movement as saying: “Basotho farmers involved in the cultivation of recreational cannabis for years, need to be empowered to grow the medical brand.”
This gentlemen has the same inaccurate information as the PS.
thepost quoted the PS as saying: “Medical marijuana is a fledging but highly controlled industry. The control gets right to the number of seeds imported. How and where it is cultivated should remain strictly confidential.”

This is a highly inaccurate statement. However, as an administrator the PS is free to choose the strain of plants he wishes to be grown but this does not mean the basic constituents of this strain would be meaningfully different from any other cannabis plant.
The PS is also free to confine licensing to a certain class of persons e.g. corporate persons (companies), individuals or group of individuals (communities). However in anyone of these cases he must be above board with his intentions and not disguise them with the non-existent biological/botanical properties of the plant.

The honest truth is there is no such this as medicinal or recreational cannabis. Cannabis is a plant that has both medicinal and intoxicating properties.
You can thus use the same plant for medicinal and recreation or both. The above utterance from the PS indicates that he believes that the cannabis used for medicine (medicinal) is a different plant from the one used for recreation.

This is far from the truth and utterly misleading. The truth is that the difference is only in the intended use of the same plant. The act of legalising cannabis does not make it medicinal, it only makes it legal for medicinal use.
It is imperative that the PS should give accurate information i.e. make it clear that “cannabis is cannabis” (all cannabis is the same including what the Basotho are growing now and have been growing throughout the years).

It must be made clear that the government has legalised its cultivation for medical uses only and not recreational or religious uses.
The current misinformation that medicinal and recreation marijuana are different plants from different types of seeds will cause a lot of crimes whereby individuals will surreptitiously sell common marijuana seed as medicinal marijuana seeds approved by the government.
The same will apply to the marijuana plants which will be passed as medicinal type grown with government approved seeds. Lesotho is already inundated with these type of crimes where bottle pieces are passed as diamonds! Lesotho can`t afford more gangster loss of life and limb.

A brief explanation of cannabis and its pharmacological effects
Matekoane/Cannabis is most likely the most well-known and most famous plant on earth. It is a member of the Cannabinaceae family of plants.
Usually each family has quite a few members but cannabis is the only member of its family though of course there are a few strains of the same plant such as Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa and cross breeds.

There are two groups of cultivars of cannabis which are recognised as two different sub-species:
l The sub-species that has no psychoactive effects (does not intoxicate or alter the mind) and is grown for its fibre and seed oils. This is commonly known as “Hemp”. Though Hemp may be used in many ways including building houses, food, etc, it is virtually unknown in Lesotho or if known it has attracted no interest.

l The sub-species that is grown for its intoxicant potential. This is the one which immediately comes to mind with a mixture of interest and fear. Believe me, a blind man sitting in the dark will sharply turn his head or lean forward in the direction where the word matekoane or dagga is mentioned.

This type has substantial quantities of chemical compounds known as “Cannabinols” with “tetrahydrocannabinol” (THC) being the main “canannabinol” of about 100 compounds. This species is used both as a medicine and mind altering drug (recreation).
The resinous female flowering tops and nearby leaves are the parts used because they have the highest concentration of the psychoactive substances which are not found in the stems and seeds. Cannabis has various positive and negative physical and psychological effects in the body. It is this species that forms the subject matter of our discussion.

The United Nations has imposed strict laws which suppress the use of cannabis in member countries which in turn have enacted prohibition laws making cannabis illegal in their own jurisdictions.
All the same cannabis is smoked extensively in Lesotho, South Africa and everywhere else to induce a desired feeling of well-being, relaxation sociability and euphoria. In some religions it is used occasionally to induce spirituality. Smoking is the most common method of using dagga though there are other methods such as teas, infused oils, powders and cookie ingredient.

Cannabis is not poisonous or deadly. The question is why then is it outlawed and declared illegal by the United Nations and member states? The reason is because of its intoxicating and addictive potential. Could its intoxicating and addictive potential be more than that of alcohol? Is its addictive potential worse than that of cigarettes?

Negative effects of cannabis on mind:
l It intoxicates: “U tsubile matekoane?” (“Have you been smoking dagga”?). This is a common question by a grandmother who considers her grandchild to be disrespectful or failing to make sense in his speech – a clear indication that you do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that dagga affects the mind negatively. When dagga smoke is inhaled the THC is passed from the lungs into the blood stream and is carried to the brain and other organs throughout the body. In the brain, THC acts on specific receptors known as “cannabinoid receptors” causing a cellular reaction that finally leads to euphoria or a “high,” as is lovingly referred to by the users. Certain parts of the brain such as the hippocampus the cerebellum, the basal ganglia and the cerebral cotex have a higher concentration of cannabinoid receptors. These areas influence memory, concentration, pleasure, co-ordination, time perception and sensory. Therefore, these important and very necessary functions are mostly negatively affected by dagga use which may also affect learning and short term memory. What happens to an individual who does not have these functions?

l Despite giving pleasure, relaxation and a sense of peacefulness, dagga intoxicates the mind. In the short term, smoking of dagga may produce a state of euphoria followed by intellectual excitement, illusions, audio or visual hallucinations, in-coordination of movement and drowsiness. The nature or extent of intoxication differs from person to person depending on various factors such as the individual’s make-up, previous experience, the quality of plant material, the setting, expectation and simultaneous consumption of other drugs, substances or alcohol. This explains the attitude and claim of those who supports decriminalization of cannabis on the basis that they know someone or some people who have been smoking cannabis for years without any negative side effects.

l Prolonged use of cannabis may cause toxic effects which lead to lassitude, indifference, lack of productive activity, insomnia (lack of sleep), increased susceptibility to infection, erratic menstrual circle, sexual impotence and a negative change of personality – hence a Mosotho’s common utterance “e ka ka o tsuba matekoane”(he has symptoms of a dagga smoker).

Negative effects of cannabis on general health:
Smoking of dagga may cause respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis or bronchial tumours.

Negative effects of cannabis on the society, the state and its institutions:
An intoxicated mind has no sense of responsibility. In the short term a dagga smoker may commit crimes or commit acts that are unacceptable to society. His acts may be costly to the state such as in cases when he injures others or himself or where he has to be kept in prison at the taxpayers’ cost.

Prolonged dagga`s smokers are a liability to all and sundry, yet in a democracy they remain entitled to benefits from the state to whom they do not contribute taxes. The chances are, due to lack of proper upbringing the offspring of dagga smokers will follow the footsteps of their parents – a continual burden to the community, the state and the taxpayer.
Thus the cannabis circle may repeat itself! There is also a fear that dagga smoking may be a “gateway” to more serious and dangerous drugs. After hearing the negative consequences of cannabis use, would you still advocate for its legalization? If you were a government would you see any public interest in legalizing cannabis?

Health benefits of cannabis
It is reported dagga has been used in traditional medicine in various countries in the world.
The following are some of the traditional uses:
l Ground seeds administered to children during weaning and plant smoked by women during child birth. Also used for treatment of bots in horses (Lesotho)

l Treatment for dry cough, asthma, hypertension and diabetes (Zululand)
l Treatment for blood poisoning, anthrax, dysentery, malaria (Zimbabwe)
l Treatment for epilepsy, rheumatism, menstrual cramps, migraine headaches, to increase uterine contractions and reduce pain in child birth, a hypnotic in the treatment of mental conditions (America).

Negative effects on cannabis on general Health
Smoking of dagga may cause respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis or bronchial tumours.

Negative effects of cannabis on the society, the state and its institutions
An intoxicated mind has no sense of responsibility. In the short term a dagga smoker may commit crimes or commit acts that are unacceptable to society. His acts may be costly to the state such as in cases when he injures others or himself or where he has to be kept in prison at the taxpayers’ cost.

Prolonged dagga`s smokers are a liability to all and sundry, yet in a democracy they remain entitled to benefits from the state to whom they do not contribute taxes.
The chances are, due to lack of proper upbringing the offspring of Dagga smokers will follow the footsteps of their parents – a continual burden to the community, the state and the taxpayer. Thus the cannabis circle may repeat itself!
There is also a fear that dagga smoking may be a “gateway” to more serious and dangerous drugs. After hearing the negative consequences of cannabis use, would you still advocate for its legalization? If you were a government would you see any public interest in legalizing cannabis?

Health benefits of cannabis
It is reported dagga has been used in traditional medicine in various countries in the world. The following are some of the traditional uses:
l Ground seeds administered to children during weaning and plant smoked by women during child birth. Also used for treatment of bots in horses (Lesotho)

l Treatment for dry cough, asthma, hypertension and diabetes (Zululand)
l Treatment for blood poisoning, anthrax, dysentery, malaria (Zimbabwe)
l Treatment for epilepsy, rheumatism, menstrual cramps, migraine headaches, to increase uterine contractions and reduce pain in child birth, a hypnotic in the treatment of mental conditions (America).

In the modern world various researchers have shown that amongst others, smoking or ingestion of dagga may be used in the treatment of:
l Respiratory ailments (asthma and bronchitis): It is a bronchodilator.
l reduction of ocular and systemic blood pressure
l Prevention and reduction of nausea and vomiting following chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients
l To have sedative effects in small doses
l To relieve pain (analgesic), convulsions and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis
l The oil has been found active on gram-positive bacteria and has been used in cases of resistance to penicillin.
The question is whether notwithstanding these medicinal benefits you would still advocate that cannabis should be banned. If you were a government would you listen to those requesting the banning and criminalization of cannabis?

Legislation gorvening cannabis
The “Single Convention on Narcotics drugs 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol,” is a United Nations Convention which regulates cannabis and other drugs. This is an international treaty to prohibit production and supply of narcotic drugs and drugs with similar effects except under license for specific purposes such as medical treatment and scientific research.
This is the first treaty to prohibit cannabis as a psychoactive drug “with particularly dangerous particulars and hardly any therapeutic value.” Member states must pass laws to carry out the provisions of the Convention as a framework. The current Lesotho laws on narcotics are based on this convention.
Articles 23 and 28 of the Convention require each party to establish a government agency to control cultivation. Cultivators must deliver their total crop to the agency which must purchase and take physical possession of the crop within 4 months after end of harvest.
The Agency then has exclusive rights of importing, exporting, wholesale trading and maintaining stocks other than those held by manufacturers.
International Narcotics Control Board: Monitors and supports governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties. The Board has 13 members, 10 of whom are elected by governments and three by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In charging its mandate the Board has regular consultation with governments through missions and other ways.
The Drugs Abuse Act 2008 regulates the use of drugs including cannabis in Lesotho. When it comes to cannabis, the Act is prohibitive and makes no difference whatsoever between medical and non-medical cannabis.
thepost asked the PS: “Is Lesotho’s legal framework adequate to regulate such a complex project that is fraught with so many risks.”
His response was telling. He said: “Not yet. There is still a lot of work to be done in this regard. We need to refine the guidelines on the plantation, harvesting, packaging as well as its export.
This is unchartered waters and we need to move carefully. We must also point out that there is a lot of misinterpretation that is going around regarding the licensing. The licensing of those companies is only for the production of medicinal marijuana and nothing more. Marijuana has not been licensed in this country and growing it for recreational purposes remains illegal.”
My understanding is that there has been no amendment to the Drugs Abuse Act No.5 of 2008 to allow for cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes yet licenses have already by given to five companies.

This looks like putting the cart before the horse. It is also an infringement of the existing law. Does a government have a right to infringe the law?
The PS also admits that there are no guidelines on the planting, harvesting, storage and all things reasonably relevant and necessary for the proper handling of this business, yet he agrees that the matter of cannabis is a delicate issue that needs special attention.
Under these particular circumstances would it not be better to revoke or defer the already issued licenses to a future date?

Articles 23 and 28 of the Single Convention requires each party to establish a “government agency” to control cultivation, physical possession of the crop, importing, exporting, wholesale trading and maintaining stocks other than those held by manufacturers.
Has this agency been established yet? If there is no compliance who will fulfil the aforementioned requirements of the international convention?
The PS alleges that this requirement is the equivalent of a board but this does not appear as a correct interpretation. The requirements specified by the United Nations seem to go far beyond those of an ordinary board.

If we agree that the medicinal properties and psychoactive properties are found in the same plant of cannabis, what would have the government legalised or licensed to verve dynamics and the four unnamed local companies?
The logical answer is that government has legalised cultivation of cannabis provided the cultivated cannabis is used solely for medicinal purposes and scientific research.

Does it mean anybody may be licensed to cultivate cannabis? Without the guidance of the law in the form of amendment to the existing law we are all left guessing!

Is it possible to avoid a legal nightmare as is negatively insinuated in one of the aforementioned local newspapers?

To my observation, there is a legal nightmare now where there is an existing law that criminalises cultivation and use of cannabis yet we all know that this herb is grown everywhere with impunity and that throughout the years massive law enforcement resources have been spent in trying to curb this overwhelming crime. It is time that we had a change of mind from the sixties when cannabis was criminalised. Here is my suggestion:
1. The existing colonial law must be amended in the best possible manner that will take into account our special situation as a nation, what we want and how to best achieve what we want.

This must be a comprehensive law that will be easy to understand and capable of giving effective guidance. We know what we want, don’t we? We want to be the prime beneficiaries of our country`s natural endowments.
Other than the basic law, there must be a greater effort from the authorities to make people understand and convince them that the laws are not intended to be punitive or a mere hindrance to them but are necessary to enable the state to plan, develop and protect its citizens against exploitation.

2. A Government Agency should be created in accordance with Articles 23 and 28 of the United Nations Convention which requires each party to establish a government agency to control cultivation.
It also specifies that cultivators must deliver their total crop to the agency which must purchase and take physical possession of the crop within four months after end of harvest. In our particular case, this Agency would also regulate the market (buying and selling) and processing or manufacturing into medicines, if any.

3. Now that we know for certain that there is “one cannabis and one cannabis only” and no medicinal or non-medicinal types, the law should allow everybody licensed to cultivate cannabis within the strict confines of the law.
Punitive measures should be confined to unlicensed growers (who would have no reason for not having licenses) and licensed growers who infringe the law under which they were licensed (who would do if offered higher than set market prices by the smugglers).

I believe in this way there would be an element of self-policing. We should do away with the prejudicial attitude that people grow cannabis purely for their own pleasure. No reasonable man would grow a whole acre or two of cannabis purely for pleasure.
The reality is that the majority of cannabis growers are respectable law-abiding citizens who try to have the ends meet in order to generate incomes to sustain families and educate their children — you do not have to come from Mapoteng to agree with me! Bearing the foregoing in mind, most growers will police themselves by obtaining licenses and obeying the law. In this way:

l Lesotho will avoid a regulatory nightmare and reduce the current cannabis law enforcement failures.
l There would be no strikes or disruptions arising from discontent arising from exclusions.
l There will be no “illegal farmer” unless the individual voluntarily chooses to operate without a license for which there should be serious consequences.

l Instead of giving away their fields and providing manual labour to the licensed companies (as the PS suggests in thepost), a number of Basotho or communities will be self-employed and self-sufficient by cultivating a legal crop with a controlled, certain and lucrative market instead of calling the government to create or provide jobs for them.

4. I am actually intrigued by how the PS has been at pains to explain that what has been licensed is the cultivation of medicinal cannabis not recreation cannabis.  If Lesotho is growing cannabis for export, what control would they have if the buyer uses the cannabis for recreation once outside the Lesotho jurisdiction? What happens if the buyer comes from one of the States in the United States where cannabis may be used for both medical and recreation purposes?

Will Lesotho complain meaningfully that the cannabis purchased was grown for medicinal purposes? If not why bother whether it is medicinal or recreational? What Lesotho has to do is to guard against problems that might arise from legalizing cultivation of cannabis.

5. I would suggest that cultivation of cannabis be left to the locals, be it individuals, communities or companies. Instead of participating in the planting, foreign companies should use the funds they would have used for cultivation to buy cannabis from local producers. “What was the logic behind granting a licence to Verve Dynamics, a South African company based in Cape Town?,” asks thepost. The PS replies: “They proved that they had the competence to handle such a project. We looked at their history and skills and were satisfied that they have the skills to handle such a complex project.”

I must say the PS’s answer is unconvincing bearing in mind that as we speak cultivation of cannabis is illegal in South Africa notwithstanding pressure from the would be producers. Where then would Verve Dynamics have acquired the skills? If anything, the Basotho can teach them a thing or two. We should remember that the issue at hand now is cultivation of cannabis not making medicines.

Another worrying factor is that discriminate legalization is bound to cause discontent that will mar the prospect and success of this business. For example if the cultivated fields are burned or the investors are made uncomfortable in one way or another, this beautiful project will be a dead loss.
Allowing only a few companies to operate within a prohibited environment would be the equivalent of legalizing a handful of sex workers to service a certain clientele at a local hotel while the rest of the sex workers` operations remain illegal. This would be morally wrong and unacceptable to those left behind. The same will apply to marijuana growers.

6. Lack of funding has always been a hindrance for Lesotho’s small businesses. However, thepost reports that the “World Bank has to support smallholder farmers. The World Bank has approved US10 million (about 136 million) from the International Development Association (IDA) to support Lesotho`s ongoing Smallholder Agriculture Development Project (SADP).”
Oh what blessing! Some of these funds could be used to finance small holder cannabis farmers who would generate enough income to buy the produce of food producers. This would solve the current problems whereby farmers have no market due to lack of disposable incomes to the general population.

7. What about beneficiation? Would Lesotho not reap better benefits if some of the cannabis medicines were manufactured here? It is time we thought of benefiting from our natural resources before calling South Africans to come, get and go. The PS says, “The Ministry of Health did not see anything wrong with granting the licence to the company because there is nothing new about South African companies working in Lesotho. We have many retail shops and banks that are from South Africa.”

The PS`s pronouncements are true but should the situation continue unabated? My fear is that we are packing new products into old and moldy boxes. For those who might care to know, this is Lesotho’s painful history:

Agriculture:
The colonialists allowed Basotholand to exist purely to serve the interests of the East India Company, currently known as South Africa. When South Africa discovered minerals, Basotho men worked the mines and were paid very little.
Those who did not die came back home broke and broken. The mining culture left Lesotho`s agriculture into the hands of women and children. So Lesotho`s agriculture suffered to the extent that to-date Lesotho is 90 percent dependent on South African agricultural produce.
In 2016 I listened with dismay as South African smallholder farmers were being encouraged to grow spinach for the Lesotho market.

Dumping of manufactured goods:
Mining enriched the whites who imported manufactured goods from Europe. At the same time South Africa manufactured cheap goods for the African market. Basutholand (now Lesotho), the territories of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and Swaziland became dumping grounds for the South African manufactured goods. The irony is that these dumped goods were bought with the money remitted from the mines. So the money went back to South Africa. We became so dependent on these goods that we never thought of manufacturing anything of our own even when opportunities arose in the 1970s.
In my observation, we still have a deep seated belief that whatever is produced in South Africa is better by far than what we can ever produce. For this reason efforts to produce goods locally have faced tough and destructive competition. This is the basis of the many South African retail shops and banks in Lesotho.

Water:
That Lesotho would be a water source for South Africa was decided long before Lesotho got independence from the British rule, contrary to the belief that this was Chief Leabua Jonathan’s innovation. I do not know much about this aspect but wish with all my heart that Lesotho is reaping the very benefit from this precious resource.

Diamonds:
Our world renowned stones have been going to South Africa by Scott’s airplanes since the 1970s. This still continues to date but at a much worse situation since Lesotho has a minority shareholding of a mere 33 percent as opposed to the 1970s when Lesotho had a majority share of 51 percent. I suppose the diamond shareholding is still much better than the manufacturing under AGOA where there is no shareholding – the Chinese have it all.

Cannabis:
This is the last item in the kitty. If we let this chance slip through our fingers that will be it!
By licensing five companies to grow marijuana/cannabis/matekoane the government of Lesotho has not only opened the dagga doors but have also open a can of hope for many current Basotho producers albeit their illegal status.
Let us attempt to analyse this radical step in the light of the current Lesotho laws relating to cannabis, fairness to Lesotho citizens, development, peace and prosperity of our country and compliance with international statutory requirement.

‘Mathabo McCloy

 

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