Zimbabwe Medicines regulator permits medical cannabis use

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  • The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe has invited licensed cannabis and hemp producers, manufacturers, importers, exporters, and retail pharmacists to apply for approval to sell cannabis medicinal products
  • Zimbabwe is seeking to boost income from cannabis as it gradually shifts away from tobacco, the main cash crop
  • Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said cannabis for medicinal purposes has “immense potential” to generate export receipts and tax revenues

The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe has invited all licensed cannabis and hemp producers, manufacturers, importers, exporters, and retail pharmacists to apply for approval to sell cannabis medicinal products.

The regulator requested those interested in providing product samples and allowed its officials to inspect production sites.

“Unlicensed sellers of cannabis will be prosecuted for selling unapproved complementary medicines,” it added in a letter dated July 18.

According to Bloomberg, the Southern African nation is seeking to boost income from cannabis as it gradually shifts away from tobacco, the main cash crop. The approval will help spur an industry that the country’s Treasury estimates have the potential to reach $1.25 billion a year.

Read: Africa’s cannabis market to hit US$7.1 billion by 2023

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said cannabis for medicinal purposes has “immense potential” to generate export receipts and tax revenues.

According to an article by The Standard dated July 19, 2022, many African countries that persecuted citizens for cannabis-related offences for years are now promoting legal cannabis production. Over the past five years, ten countries have passed laws to legalise production for medical and scientific purposes. These include Lesotho, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Eswatini, Rwanda, and Morocco.

However, the limited scope of legal production, the high license fees and business set-up costs, and other conditions will likely limit the participation of many smallholder producers who lack the resources to set up legal cannabis businesses.

The Standard adds that there are various types of licenses and fees for cannabis manufacture, distribution, and research. These can range from US$5,000 to US$50,000 in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, the gazetted fees range from R9 200 (US$579.27) for an export permit to R25 200 (US$1,586.69) for a manufacturing permit. The highest license fees have been reported in Lesotho and Uganda. Here, they range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to a couple of million dollars.

Additional requirements include tax clearance certificates, bank guarantees, compliance with cultivation guidelines, and security guarantees. The average farmer in these countries can’t afford these kinds of fees.

Impact of cannabis legalisation (Photo/ UNODC Drug Report 2022)

The article adds that the cannabis policy liberalisation in Africa has been brought about by two main factors. One is the lobbying by local activists. Cannabis use is still criminalised in most African countries. But even in the most conservative ones, there are emerging debates ultimately aimed at spurring cannabis policy reforms.

The other factor is the emergence of the global legal cannabis industry, projected to grow to nearly US$200 billion by 2028. For state authorities, policy changes are aimed at opening avenues for scarce foreign exchange revenue critically needed to boost stagnating economies.

Read: Africa’s cannabis future: Reimagining job creation

According to UNODC, being part of traditional Indian medicine, the medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids is not a recent phenomenon. Cannabis preparations such as cannabis tinctures (containing THC and other cannabinoids) were available in Europe, Britain, and the United States to relieve pain and nausea in the nineteenth century.

However, the medical use of those cannabis preparations was phased out in the twentieth century with the development of newer drugs based on clinical trials with standardised preparations and doses.

A related article by IT News Africa published July 26, 2022, said CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of many natural chemicals that the cannabis plant produces. It was discovered and isolated as early as the 1960s by Israeli scientists, but only recently did this compound make such splashes as to almost eclipse the notoriety of the other cannabis compound – THC. It’s because, in contrast to THC, which produces very noticeable mind-altering effects in users, CBD is almost non-psychoactive. It may make you calmer, but it’s nothing like your regular weed high.

UNODC adds that the cannabinoids could be used as an alternative to treat certain conditions for which there was strong to moderate evidence of effectiveness. These conditions include, among others, chronic pain, neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis-related spasticities, and some types of epilepsies.

Currently, 64 countries have provisions in their national legislation or guidelines allowing the medical use of cannabinoid pharmaceutical preparations and/or cannabis herbs for various medical conditions and with varying degrees of restrictions or permissiveness.

In essence, all countries that allow medical use of cannabis herb also have provisions for medical use of cannabinoid pharmaceutical preparations.

Number of countries having provisions for medical use of cannabis (cannabis herb and/or cannabinoid pharmaceutical preparations, 2021) (Photo/ UNODC Drug Report 2022)

According to UNODC, since 2011, an increasing number of countries have started to use cannabis and cannabis extracts for medical purposes and scientific research. Among those 40 reporting countries, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and Canada are the two main producers of cannabis for medical use, accounting for 71 per cent of the global production of 650 tons of medical cannabis in 2020. The United Kingdom is the main source of cannabis extracts and pharmaceutical preparations containing cannabis extracts.

According to The Standard, the liberalisation of the cannabis policy in Africa is primarily for production for medical and scientific purposes. Production, trade, and consumption of cannabis outside of these purposes remain criminalised.

Meanwhile, the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture Centre at the Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, has started training on TCM and acupuncture for the first batch of local health workers to meet the growing demand for Chinese medicine in the country.

According to Xinhua, the centre was established in 2020 as part of efforts to offer Zimbabweans affordable medical treatment and has in recent months seen a multitude of patients seeking medical attention free of charge

Zhu Wei, a TCM doctor and chief of the centre said the three-month program aims to train a group of local health professionals who can provide an alternative medical option to Zimbabweans.

“We hope to train a team of personnel who are specialising in TCM and acupuncture, and we hope that after the training, they can master the basic techniques of acupuncture and the basic knowledge of TCM,” he told Xinhua in an interview.

Zhu, who is also the head of the 18th Chinese medical team in Zimbabwe, said TCM offers substantial benefits to patients hence the need to train local health workers.

“In Chinese medicine, we can diagnose disease by inspection, inquiry, palpation, and auscultation. So those who cannot afford to take the scan can benefit from TCM and acupuncture. After we diagnose the patient, we can use acupuncture and Chinese cups (cupping therapy) to cure them,” Zhu said.

“TCM and acupuncture, it is general medicine. It can be used in different fields and specialities like bone systems. We can treat pain like neck pain, low back pain, arthritis, headache, etc. It can also be applied to the digestive, neurological, and vascular systems.”

Read: Medicinal cannabis farming takes root as Zimbabwe starts licensing farmers

Albert is a Chemical Technologist and Author. He is passionate about mining, stock market investing, Fintech and Edutech.

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