Zimbabwe is considering legalising the production of cannabis for medical purposes to lure investors keen to grow the drug, a cabinet minister says.
Investment Promotion Minister Obert Mpofu says a Canadian firm has applied to the government for a permit to produce the drug, known locally as mbanje, in one of the country's soon-to-be-set-up Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
"We have received numerous inquiries from investors who want to participate in the SEZs and one of them is a big international company that wants to be involved in the production of cannabis," Mpofu was quoted as saying by the state-run Sunday News.
Zimbabwe is in the process of setting up SEZs, initially in Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. The zones will offer investors incentives, including exemption from some provisions of the labour law and black economic empowerment rules.
Mpofu told the paper that he thought the Canadian firm, which he didn't name, was joking when he first received an inquiry from them. That was before he realised that medical cannabis production was big business.
"This company is from Canada and it's one of the biggest conglomerates in that country and they are producing cannabis for medical purposes under strict conditions," he said.
Punishable by jail
"I don't see anything wrong and I think if we legalise (production of) mbanje we will benefit medically because it is used for pain killers such as morphine," he added.
Under Zimbabwe's laws the possession or cultivation of cannabis is illegal, punishable by jail.
In 2015 a Harare man - who was found by police to be growing small quantities of marijuana at home, apparently to treat a rare bone ailment - was jailed for 12 months, according to The Herald.