Young doctor in Zimbabwe gets Government to decriminalise medical cannabis and hemp

By Edward Tsumele

It took her a chance encounter with a hemp clothing material in China about six years ago when she bought a dress made up of a fabric she had not seen before. That chance encounter triggered her curiosity that took her on a journey of research and discovery about the possibilities that cannabis holds for employment creation and business.

Today Dr. Zorodzai  Maroveke, a young doctor and cannabis activist who graduated in dentistry in China six years ago, is regarded as a hero in Zimbabwe, particularly in the fledgling cannabis industry. This follows her five year efforts that the now 30 year old dentist embarked on single-handedly, persuading the  government of Zimbabwe to  institute legal reforms that saw the government eventually relax regulations for research into medical  cannabis as well as permitting industrial production of hemp.

The government first permitted medical research into medical cannabis in 2019, and later in 2020, also gave the green light for industrial production of hemp. This development has opened doors for main players to take part in this sector, including small scale farmers and big corporates. In Zimabwe today, the permit to grow cannabis for hemp production only cots $200 , making the country one of the most attractive countries for investors in the hemp sector to consider. So far 44 licenses have been issued to cannabis growers in that country.

According to recent reports from Bloomberg, Zimbabwe is expected to see export earnings from cannabis outstripping those of tobacco by almost three times.

The government has issued 44 licenses since September 2020,  when it announced rules for growing cannabis, and sales are forecast to reach $1.25 billion in 2021, Treasury spokesman Clive Mphambela is quoted as saying in the Bllomberg article. “Thirty producers are ready and some were doing test production,” Mphambela said. He declined to comment on stocks of cannabis available for export,” the Bloomberg report states.

It is obvious that many countries on the continent that are especially cash-strapped in the face of Covid-19, have woken up to the fact that the cannabis plant could be a good partner to governments , especially as far as  the growing of the economy, employment creation, and crucially, increasing the tax revenue is concerned.

”In his budget statement on Nov. 26, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said cannabis production for medicinal purposes has “immense potential” to generate export receipts and tax revenues. A so-called cannabis levy will be introduced next year (2021), in line with export values, Ncube said. Taxes of as much as 20% will be applied on oils, bulk extracts and dried cannabis flowers.

Growers, most of whom are locals with international partners, can produce $40 million to $46 million worth of cannabis a month, underpinning Treasury’s “very conservative” estimates, Bloomberg quotes Mphambela saying.

According to Maroveke, the country has also dropped its initial demand that foreign investors needed to go into a 40-60 percent with local investors to get the go ahead to go into the cannabis production, potentially opening the gateway for foreign investors to come in and invest.

After fighting this battle that she eventually won, Dr. Maroveke, ironically, even with her medical background, however herself does not intend to be involved in medical cannabis, nor the growing of cannabis. She is however interested in getting involved in the other aspects of the cannabis supply chain business  using her organisation Zimbabwe Hemp Trust that she founded and through which she negotiated with government for relaxing rules governing cannabis in that country.

“What I am interested in rather is the manufacture of CBD derivatives. The whole idea of getting involved in this process that led to this was to open opportunities for small scale farmers and the unemployed to be involved in this multi-billion dollar industry. When I came back from China I spent a year doing internship so that I could qualify to get a license to practice (as a dentist), which I did. What distressed me though was to see some of the people I had been to school with hanging around aimlessly at street corners, unemployed, as they have dropped out of school due to financial difficulties.

Now those among the unemployed can explore possibilities in the cannabis industry, an industry that already is a growing multi-billion dollar industry in the Northern  hemisphere, especially Europe and North America,” Maroveke told interviewer, Trevor Ncube. Ncube is the well known Zimbabwean media mogul who runs a popular series of Youtube weekly series of conversations titled In Conversations with Trevor. Ncube is the former owner of influential South African publication M&G, who sold his controlling shares in the newspaper two years ago and returned to his native Zimbabwe where he has interests in a number of publications .

Maroveke’s journey to getting the often conservative Zimbabwean government to change its mind on cannabis, whose potential of unlocking of economic opportunities, however has not happened in isolation from what is globally currently taking place with regard to the future of cannabis in changing both social and economic lives of countries and people globally.

Currently many countries are liberalizing their laws with regards to cannabis laws, rescheduling the governance of this famous tree, with  for example, with more and more states in America having already legalized cannabis and others following suit.

In Africa, several countries led by South Africa are also in the process of implementing legislative amendments to allow for commercial exploitation of especially medicinal research and industrial hemp. Besides South Africa, countries such as Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe are at different stages of changing their laws in accordance with these global developments regarding the commercial possibilities of exploiting cannabis.

These developments are happening against the backdrop of the recent rescheduling of cannabis by the United Nations’ Commission on Narcotic Drugs, (NCD), which as a result of recommendations from the World Health organization, on December 2, 2020, voted to remove cannabis from a highly restrictive schedule to one that allows for research into medicinal value of cannabis to happen, for example.

The 53 Member States of the CND, the UN’s central drug policy-making body, on December 2, 2020, voted to remove cannabis from that highly restrictive Schedule – where it had been placed for 59 years –and to which the strictest control measures apply, that generally discouraged its use for medical purposes. 

With a vote of 27 in favour, 25 against, and one abstention, the CND has opened the door to recognizing the medicinal and therapeutic potential of cannabis, although its use for non-medical and non-scientific purposes will continue to remain illegal. According to news reports, the decision could drive additional scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties.

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