The tiny African nation of Rwanda is hoping to revitalize its economy by allowing local businesses to grow medical marijuana for export.
This Monday, the Rwandan government approved a new set of regulatory guidelines that will allow licensed businesses to cultivate, process, and export medicinal cannabis. The following day, the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) said that it is preparing to issue licenses to businesses who want to get in on this lucrative industry.
"We have interested investors that we are going to work with for the next few days now that we have guidelines in place to see how Rwanda can contribute to medicinal research in the world,” said RDB CEO Clare Akamanzi to MedicalXpress. “US, Canada and the EU are big markets that we are seeing buying products."
The country's government has made it clear that they are only interested in the financial benefits of pot, and have no further interest in cannabis reform. Rwandan Minister of Health Dr. Daniel Ngamije told the country's national news broadcaster that the new law “will not give room for those who abuse it,” The New Times reports. “The law that punishes drug abuse is in place and it will continue to be applied as usual.”
"Rwanda will begin to receive applications for licenses from interested investors for this high-value therapeutic crop,” the government said in a statement, MedicalXpress reports. “This investment framework does not affect the legal status of cannabis consumption in Rwanda, which remains prohibited."
Anyone caught with any amount of weed in Rwanda can be sent to jail for up to two years. The punishment for selling weed can range from 20 years to life in prison, and the new medical marijuana program does nothing to change these laws. The government has not even announced any intention to allow Rwandan citizens to use medical cannabis grown in their own country, but Dr. Ngamije did suggest that this may be a possibility in the future.
The RDB has yet to announce when cannabis production will begin, but the board has already begun to draft regulations for this new industry. "There will be strong measures including CCTV cameras, watchtowers, street lights and human security,” said Akamanzi to MedicalXpress. “This will ensure that the crop does not leave the farm to go to the local market. We are absolutely not going to allow any other use for the crop — even recreational use — other than medicinal research."
Compared to North America and Europe, Africa has been slow to embrace the growing wave of cannabis reform. But in the past few years, more and more governments are at least coming to recognize the economic benefits of legalization, if not the medical benefits. Last year, Uganda and Zambia passed similar laws that allow medical marijuana to be grown solely for export, and industrial hemp is now legal in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Ghana.
The only African countries to embrace more robust cannabis laws are Lesotho, which legalized medical marijuana in 2018, and South Africa, which legalized personal, private adult pot use that same year.