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Zimbabwe Legalizes Cannabis Cultivation for Medical and Research Purposes

The country's new program is highly restrictive, and only allows the cultivation of hemp.

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Zimbabwe has legalized the production of cannabis for medical or research use, becoming the second African country ever to do so. All production and use of cannabis, which is locally known as mbanje, has heretofore been completely prohibited, subject to maximum prison sentences of 12 years. In order to keep recreational use of marijuana in check, the new law only legalizes the cultivation of hemp, which contains only trace amounts of psychoactive THC.

"Possession of cannabis, other than for medicinal or scientific purposes, is therefore still illegal in Zimbabwe. For emphasis, licensing is imperative for medicinal or industrial cannabis use," Health and Child Care Minister Dr. David Parirenyatwa said to The Herald. Dr. Parirenyatwa also added that all production facilities will be under constant video surveillance to ensure that no weed is being harvested for illegal purposes.

The country's residents will now be allowed to apply for five-year renewable licenses allowing them to grow, possess, sell, and transport cannabis in plant or oil form. Government officials have reserved the right to deny a license to any individual that has previously been involved with selling drugs on the black market. The health ministry can also refuse a license "if the issuance, renewal, or amendment of the license is likely to create a risk to public health, safety, or security," according to The Observer.

"[The Zimbabwe] government will use a multi-sectoral approach to coordinate and regulate this industry as it develops. This will include health, industry, agriculture, home affairs, customs, academia, and the private sector among others," Dr. Parirenyatwa said to The Herald. "These regulations do not therefore mean that it is now a free-for-all in growing and processing hemp. You have to be licensed." The cost for applying for such a license is reportedly the equivalent of $50,000 USD.

Zimbabwe Industrial Hemp Trust founder Dr Zorodzai Makovere told The Herald that hemp has been unfairly prohibited because it is a "cousin" to marijuana. Hemp "is the strongest fiber in the plant kingdom," she explained. "It is harmless for it cannot be used as a recreational drug because it contains very little to none of the psychoactive compound THC, therefore it is not useful to drug users."

Africa, as a whole, is the one of the largest producers and consumers of cannabis, second only to the U.S., according to the U.N. 2017 World Drug Report. Despite this widespread use, almost every African government prohibits the cultivation and use of marijuana for any purpose. Last year, the tiny country of Lesotho became the first African nation to legalize medical cannabis, and Malawi, Ghana, and South Africa are taking steps toward legalization, as well.