Kampala — Government yesterday confessed that some marijuana firms "penetrated government" and started growing cannabis even before putting regulations in place.
Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng cited Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd, a private company her ministry gave a letter of no-objection and cleared by National Drug Authority and Police authorities in 2016 to grow and export medical marijuana.
Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd is currently working together with Pharma Limited, one of the biggest Israeli cannabis firm on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Dr Aceng also said another company in Buikwe District and another she did not disclose were about to start growing marijuana.
"We are aware that there are some companies that had already penetrated and started growing cannabis such as Industrial Hemp in Kasese. I think another one was about to start in Gulu and Lango sub-region but until government makes a decision, we cannot move on," she said.
Dr Aceng, who is accused by cannabis firms of sitting on at least 20 applications seeking to grow medical marijuana, however, explained that regulating the business is "extremely expensive."
"Whereas growing cannabis for medicinal use would not be a problem, the problem is the regulation. Regulation of such medicines, which also present a danger to our society, is extremely expensive," she said.
"We just took a study of one state in the US where they use more than $35b [about Shs132 trillion] in regulation alone. And we are asking ourselves; 'Is Uganda ready to grow this and regulate it?' Because cannabis in itself, even plucking off the leaves and chewing will get you intoxicated; even the stems even the seeds." The minister was yesterday responding to delays to grant licences to the companies seeking to grow marijuana for medical purposes. She also explained that Cabinet has not decided on the matter.
"Let me state here very clearly that government has not concluded discussions on cannabis and government has not resolved that we should give authorisation for growing of cannabis for medical use in Uganda... .The discussion is still ongoing and until Cabinet resolves, we cannot take any further step," Dr Aceng explained.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 2015 allows cultivation, production and exportation of medical marijuana and mandates the minister to issue written consent for medical marijuana.
Although the minister said regulation is expensive, Mr Benjamin Cadet, one of the directors at Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd, said the company already invested $1.5m in what he called a robust security system.
"We have the law but we don't have regulations in Uganda because those responsible are sleeping... our company is using UN certified regulations and our products go to European markets without any hitches," Mr Cadet said.
"It is unfortunate that other countries are benefiting from the medical marijuana and in Uganda, we are sleeping. It is true regulations are very expensive but why can't government compel licensed companies to put in place modern security systems to stop the abuse?"
The minister, however, assured the 20 marijuana companies that Cabinet is still having discussions on harms and benefits of medical marijuana and that once discussions have ended, "we shall let you know, but for now it's not yet resolved."
WHAT STAKEHOLDERS SAY
Benjamin Cadet, director at Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd. "We have the law but we don't have regulations in Uganda because those responsible are sleeping... our company is using UN certified regulations and our products go to European markets without any hitches."
Jane Ruth Aceng, Health minister. "Government has not concluded discussions on cannabis and government has not resolved that we should give authorisation for growing of cannabis for medical use in Uganda... .The discussion is still ongoing and until Cabinet resolves, we cannot take any further step."