Zimbabweans on Monday expressed both shock and surprise over government revelations it could soon partner a group of Canadian firms to produce marijuana or mbanje ostensibly for medical purposes.
The revelations were reportedly made by Investment Promotion Minister Obert Mpofu at a recent Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting in Victoria Falls.
Mpofu said this was spurred by an application by a Canadian conglomerate to partner the Zimbabwean government in producing medical cannabis.
Mbanje, a common substance among members of the Rastafarian community worldwide, is still illicit in Zimbabwe and could attract jail sentences of up to 12 years if one is found in its possession.
But in what could mark a significant turn of events, Mpofu said government could soon embark on mass production of the plant which he described as "big business".
Mpofu said there was nothing wrong if the drug was used for beneficial purposes as was the case with other countries throughout the world.
"I don't see anything wrong and I think if we legalise mbanje, we will benefit medically because it is used for pain killers such as morphine. South Africa has done that," he was quoted as having said.
Zimbabweans, however, proffered different views on the substance with many saying government may find it difficult to restrict the use of the potent leaf for just medical use even under controlled production.
Zimbabwe Christian Alliance executive director, Reverend Useni Sibanda said there was nothing wrong with the use of marijuana among those both professionally trained and licenced to administer it on individuals.
"But it should also not just be accessible to everyone. It should be dispensed under strict conditions where one would be using prescriptions from a doctor," Sibanda said.
Mabvuku-based traditional healer Martha Katsande, better known as Mbuya Katsande, welcomed what she found as government's admission that the plant was useful for medical purposes.
"We (healers) have never had any problems with mbanje because since time immemorial, we were aware that this is medicine which helps people," said Mbuya Katsande, also a member of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (Zinatha).
"Our great grandparents were using it and it is good that government has finally realised its importance.
"In fact, we were already planning to petition parliament to legalise the use of marijuana for medicine."
Harare-based stone sculptor who preferred to be called Dread Fatso also welcomed government plans but said this should not just be restricted to medicinal purposes.
"The majority of ghetto youths take the substance. I know of areas where even police officers go to buy marijuana.
"There is no more need to continue pretending. They must just legalise it," said Fatso, who admits also taking mbanje.
But Armanda Mutaiwa, a business student at a Harare tertiary institution, said it was surprising that it took the minister in charge of investment to finally see the health benefits of producing marijuana when the minister of health was there.
"I may not be the most qualified in validating the value of mbanje as a healing substance but what I find strange is that it takes somebody whose job is to look for investment opportunities on behalf of the country to see the medicinal value of the drug.
"I fear somebody could be out to sell the nation to the highest bidder.
"If at all mbanje was so beneficial in terms of its healing power, then why would a whole government wait for foreigners to come and raise that issue.
"This is a stinking case of government seeing American dollars first before the health concerns of a nation."
Mutaiwa goes personal, saying this could be a lost cause if Minister Mpofu is allowed to preside over it.
She recalls how Mpofu, as Mines Minister, allowed the country's diamond wealth to disappear under corrupt cartels with links to some government officials, and Mpofu's turbulent tenure as industry minister when he decreed a price freeze which saw supermarket shelves go empty with basic commodities resurfacing on the black market.
Through his pro-mbanje pronouncements, Mpofu could well have set himself on a collision course with his boss, President Robert Mugabe who in 2012 said Jamaican men were only interested in smoking dope and singing all day.
"The men want to sing and do not go to colleges, some of them twist their hair. Let us not go there," President Mugabe said in comments that angered Jamaicans.