By Mugove Tafirenyika
Government’s surprise decision to suspend issuing licences to prospective cannabis (mbanje) growers for research and medicinal purposes — less than a month after approving its farming — has sparked outrage from Zimbabweans who said the decision betrays incompetence.
Deputy minister of Finance Terrence Mukupe announced at the weekend the suspension of licensing for mbanje growers as well as banning its farming despite an overwhelming response to government’s earlier decision to legalise the two.
“Policy reversals have been characteristic of the Zanu PF government as one ministry does its thing without understanding ramifications of their decisions or policies on other ministries.
“The whole thing smacks of a government quick at talk and announcing without fully investing in thought processes around the issue,” railed political analysts Maxwell Saungweme.
South Africa-based political analyst Ricky Mukonza said government’s U-turn betrayed its desperation for legitimacy and hence the resort to populist policies.
“In fact it shows that we have a government that acts first and thinks later. It’s all a result of a legitimacy deficit. The government wants to act in a populist manner, trying to please everyone” Mukonza told the Daily News.
Last month, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration gazetted licence fees for those interested in growing mbanje for research and medicinal purposes.
This was seen as part of strategies to shore up revenue flows to the depressed fiscus.
The development, which had divided opinion in the hugely polarised southern African nation, had made Zimbabwe the second country in Africa to legalise cultivation of the plant after the tiny kingdom of Lesotho announced the continent’s first licence to grow cannabis legally last year.
Until now, it had been illegal to grow, possess or use cannabis in Zimbabwe, with offenders facing up to 12 years in jail.
But in an interview with our sister paper, the Daily News on Sunday, Mukupe said the licensing of the dangerous high-street value drug had been put on ice to enable government to plug loopholes that might arise in future.
Mukupe revealed there has been an overwhelming response to the licences, with over 350 applications being made to the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ), which is responsible for protecting public and animal health by ensuring that accessible medicines and allied substances and medical devices are safe, effective and of good quality through enforcement or adherence to standards by manufacturers and distributors.
“All the applications had been submitted to MCAZ, but what has since happened is that MCAZ has put everything on hold.
“MCAZ has put on hold licensing until they are pretty clear in terms of all the modalities like; how do we actually implement?” Mukupe said.
In legalising mbanje farming, government had set a hefty licensing fee of $50 000 to farm cannabis in addition requiring the growers to also pay an annual return fee of $15 000 while an application to renew a producers licence would cost $20 000.
Those willing to conduct research on cannabis were required to stump $5 000.
An application for renewal of a licence to conduct research on cannabis would cost $2 500, application for variation or amendment of a licence $2 500, application for import/ export licence $5 000 and inspection licence $2 500.
In the United States of America mbanje is legal in 29 states.
According to medical experts mbanje has many medicinal benefits which include relieving pain, insomnia, anxiety and reducing pain in treating epileptic patients. DailyNews