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By Mulengera Reporter 

Just over 100,000 jobs remain at stake as Uganda’s Cabinet delays to approve guidelines for Cannabis growing and export.

As early as 2010, the President Yoweri Museveni government showed interest in opening up the country to marijuana farming, and export, particularly for medicinal purposes.

But since then, only two companies have been licensed to grow marijuana in a country where consumption of the herb is frowned up, and almost synonymous with drug addiction and mental illness.

In 2016, Uganda issued Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd with a license to cultivate cannabis for commercial purposes, four years after the company was registered and incorporated in the country.

Industrial Hemp has since teamed up with Israel company Together Pharma Ltd in a cannabis project seated on 12.5 acres of land, comprising five greenhouses of weed and a factory, in Kasese District, with both estimated at over Shs45bn.

These are the only two companies licensed to engage in the medical marijuana business.

Other companies have been waiting for authorization from Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng but it is taking her ministry over four years since Industrial Hemp was licensed.

The companies whose application for licenses are still pending include: Premier Hemp (owned by the Ruparelia Group), Natgro Phama (U) Ltd, Medraw (U) SMC Ltd, Urban Properties (U) Ltd, Prime Ranchers, Silver Seeds (U) Ltd, Dave and Dave Group, and Seven Blades.

Others are: Cannops Africha, Quest Worths International Group, Sativa Agro-tech Ltd, Zeus Agro Ltd and Owesia U Ltd.

Although government is aware of the potential of medicinal marijuana cultivation and export potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the industry expected to be worth Shs11tn, several agencies are dragging their feet on licensing more companies.

In the first place, there is still contention on which Ministry, Department or Agency should take the lead in supervising the sector.

The ministries of Health, Agriculture, Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Internal Affairs are jostling for control of the lucrative sector. The National Drug Authority (NDA) and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) have also not been left behind in the scramble for control.

With some semblance of agreement that the Health Ministry should take the lead, line officials seem to be giving in to pressure from activists who still hold the view that marijuana is synonymous with mental health challenges.

Activists and moralists have been hinging on provisions of the Narcotic Drug and Pyschotropic Substances (Control) Act 2015 which outlaw the production, sale and distribution of a narcotic drug or psychotropic substance, with those convicted of flouting this law risking a fine not exceeding Shs2.4m or imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both.

However, those supporting marijuana farming are hanging on the thread of life in the same Act’s provision that allows cultivation, production and exportation of medical marijuana.

These two issues – of who should be given jurisdiction over this nascent industry, and the association of marijuana with moral degeneration and mental health challenges – have remained thorny in Cabinet meetings for years now.

The only outcome from Cabinet was a plethora of guidelines issued by Minister Aceng in early 2020.

About 15 in number, the conditions include a minimum capital of Shs18.3bn and a bank guarantee of Shs4bn, a tax clearance certificate from the Uganda Revenue Authority, lists of employees, evidence of value addition to cannabis, location away from schools, hospitals and residential areas.

Cabinet is still expected to discuss the guidelines, approve them and send them to Parliament. There have been reports of divisions among cabinet members on this matter, with some ministers reportedly harboring interests in jumping into the industry to mint cash.

As formulation of guiding rules delays, and with the clashes among government officials, especially regarding Together Pharma Ltd’s back-and-forth licensing, some companies have opted to illegally cultivate medicinal marijuana as they wait for government to offer a clear and transparent way forward.

But as all this happens, hundreds of thousands of youths who would now be employed by medicinal marijuana companies remain jobless, and government continues to miss out on billions of revenues that the multi-trillion industry would be generating for Uganda.

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