Officials at Malawi Cannabis Regulatory Authority are meeting over an uproar following the gazzeted cannabis license fees after parliament passed a bill in February that makes it legal to cultivate and process cannabis for medicines and hemp fibre used in industry, but stops short of decriminalising recreational use.
The board chair of Malawi’s regulator, Boniface Kadzamira, said his board had received more than 100 applications for licensing which were under review.
“Our view as regulator is that if we get honest investors, the hemp industry can supplement export revenues from tobacco, and in some cases, surpass it. But it will not immediately replace tobacco,” he added.
Malawians have taken up in various social media platforms to complain that the K7 million (US$10,000) slapped on cannabis growers is very expensive.
Among other things, people and companies will be required to pay $10,000 (equivalent to K7 Million) when acquiring a license to cultivate and sell medicinal hemp.
Apart from that, a fee of $2,000 (Equivalent K1.5 million) is required when obtaining a license to grow and sell industrial hemp.
Dr Ketimo Salipira, acting director general of the Cannabis Regulatory Authority has defended the fees, saying the expectation of the authority is that farmers will operate in cooperatives.
Malawi is famous internationally for its recreational cannabis strain “Malawi Gold”. Cannabis, which can thrive in dry conditions, is a good fit for Malawi’s climate, which has been impacted by the southern African drought.
Salipira, however said the authority will to look into the concerns raised by the public.
Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee on Agriculture has asked government to review fees.
Sameer Suleman, chairperson of the committee described the exorbitant fees as a deliberate move to bar Malawians from benefiting from hemp farming.
Writing on his face book wall, a Malawian who follows closely the production of industrial hemp says the production is both capital and labour intensive.
Wilson Khembo says due to its relation to marijuana, a special permit is required to grow, process, transport and distribute hemp.
“These costs might be slightly lower in Malawi due to cheaper labour costs, however, it is not a cheap crop to produce in general terms,” he says.
“I do understand why the government is trying to put restrictions on hemp production because any lapse in the management and policing of hemp production can lead to serious abuse of the crop,” he says.
He says there is a likelihood that some people may take advantage of production permit to produce marijuana which remains illegal under Malawi laws.
“I kind of understand the reasoning behind the $10,000 price tag on the production permit because this will stop those with the permit from abusing their licence.
“Putting in place a hemp production control mechanism will cost money and that will be paid for through licensing.
“Maybe the government needs to engage the public a little bit more to justify the $10,000 price tag,” he says.
He says hemp production also requires identifying the market prior to production unlike other crops.
Agriculture offers employment to nearly 80% of Malawi’s population. Tobacco is the country’s major export, and the global decline in its use has impacted the economy. Malawi’s tobacco industry is also marred by exploitation, as international companies such as British American Tobacco have sought cheap labour – including child labour – and low tariffs on raw tobacco for export.
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