The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe said on Tuesday that it is now accepting applicants from cannabis and hemp producers, manufacturers, importers, exporters, and retail pharmacists, the latest move by the southern African country to shift away from tobacco.
As Bloomberg reported, cannabis will be offered as “complimentary medicines given to patients,” marking the “first time” that Zimbabwe has permitted cannabis to be sold.
The authority spelled out a host of conditions for applicants, advising that they must submit both product samples and “certificates of analysis from an accredited laboratory specifying the quantities of the active moieties of cannabidiols and any traces of tetrahydrocannabinols as part of the information in the dossier.”
“Any Hemp-based CBD product applications that do not meet the criteria above may not be approved for distribution, and will be confiscated,” the Medicines Control Authority warned. “Further, sellers may be prosecuted for selling unapproved complementary medicines.”
Zimbabwe legalized medical cannabis in 2018, making it among the first countries in Africa to do so.
The policy was motivated by economic realities. Long the country’s leading export, tobacco sales have fallen worldwide, forcing farmers and lawmakers in Zimbabwe to rethink its approach to agriculture.
Zimbabwe brought in $819 million in revenue from tobacco last year, according to Bloomberg, although the expected “demand for cannabis is projected to continue to grow while tobacco [the country’s] output globally may decline 15% by 2030.”
Industry leaders have encouraged the country’s tobacco farmers “to plant cannabis so that a quarter of their income comes from the plant by 2025,” Bloomberg reported.
In 2019, Zimbabwe abolished its ban on cannabis cultivation, which set the stage for the country’s farmers to begin cultivating industrial hemp to export. That same year, the country issued the first license to a medical cannabis company to begin cultivation.
Last year, according to Bloomberg, Zimbabwe “exported 30 tons of industrial hemp to Switzerland last year, its first foray into the European market.”
In May, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa commissioned a $27 million medical cannabis farm and processing plant to be run by Swiss Bioceuticals Limited in West Province, Zimbabwe.
“This milestone is a testimony of the successes of my Government’s Engagement and Re-engagement Policy. It further demonstrates the confidence that Swiss companies have in our economy through their continued investment in Zimbabwe. I extend my profound congratulations to the Swiss Bioceuticals Limited for this timely investment in the medicinal cannabis farm, processing plant and value chain, worth US$27 million,” Mnangagwa said in the announcement of the plant, as quoted by Business Insider.
Mnangagwa has been a vocal booster of the country’s medical cannabis program, often saying that Zimbabwe is “open for business” to the industry.
Business Insider reported at the time that Mnangagwa “also urged other investors with permits to quickly operationalize their permits and licenses for the benefit of the economy in general and people in particular.”
“I challenge other players within the medicinal cannabis sub-sector to speedily set up their enterprises, focusing on value addition and beneficiation. It is disappointing that since 2018, only 15 out of the 57 entities issued with cannabis operating [licenses] have been operational,” Mnangagwa said, as quoted by Business Insider.
Mnangagwa urged investors to “follow [Swiss Bioceuticals Limited’s] lead and open their business to support the mantra that ‘Zimbabwe is Open for Business’ and be ready to generate foreign currency generation for the country.”
With experts forecasting the global cannabis industry to be worth $272 billion by 2028, Reuters reported that Zimbabwean officials have said “the country wants at least $1 billion of that — more than it currently makes from its top agricultural export tobacco.”