A rambling marijuana licensing dilemma at the Ministry of Health is holding at least 100 bids from local and foreign companies as well as individuals, jostling to join the country's nascent multi-billion industry.
Cabinet sources told Daily Monitor on Monday that during a recent meeting at State House, Health minister Ruth Jane Aceng was instructed to work with National Drug Authority (NDA) and Internal Affairs ministry to vet and issue letters of consent to at least five serious marijuana firms.
Mr David Nahamya, the NDA secretary, told Daily Monitor on Tuesday that the absence of licensing guidelines for medical marijuana complicated matters but said they are in the process of developing guidelines.
"We are now working on the guidelines [for medical marijuana] and may be after working on the guidelines, I think even government will have to decide on that. For us we are getting ready as the regulator working on the guidelines after which we are going to present to the minister, because some of the issues which are coming out include the criteria - whom do we license and whom don't we license."
He added: "Today [Wednesday] I have a meeting with different stakeholders including those from Internal Affairs, Ministry of Health, all those, it is a multi-ministerial thing."
Narcotic drugs law
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 2015, that was passed by Parliament, mandates medical marijuana dealers to seek clearance from the Health minister.
Sources say the absence of regulations to guide medical cannabis industry, delusions, conflict of interest and the scramble for permits, have complicated matters.
Faced with the edicts of the law and incessant calls from local and foreign marijuana dealers, demanding to know the fate their bids, Dr Aceng has refused to talk about marijuana licences.
She, however, confirmed writing to all the competing companies.
"I'm tired of responding to the issue of marijuana, please leave me....Go to the companies [and] ask them to give you the minister's response and I responded to nearly 50 of them," Dr Aceng said.
Sources have, however, told Daily Monitor that minister's fury did not stop marijuana dealers from questioning the medical marijuana licensing dilemma.
The minister was later advised to write to the companies explaining what is going on and also get help from Cabinet that has since established a subcommittee to handle the matter, in which the minister is a member of and chaired by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda.
Dr Aceng on July 3 wrote to marijuana companies and claimed that Uganda had not yet started issuing operational permits for companies to grow and process marijuana for medical purposes yet Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd, a private firm working with an Israel company, Together Pharma Ltd, is currently growing and processing marijuana from its Kasese facility. The company was given the licence in 2016.
On December 7, 2017, the same firm exported unrefined cannabis buds/ flowers to South Africa's National Analytical Forensic Services in Pretoria.
Junior Health minister Sarah Opendi, however, dismissed media reports that they had cleared at least five companies to grow marijuana without licence.
"We have not. The cabinet subcommittee is trying to do consultation, examine the growing and regulating, the cost implication, enforcement, so we are still waiting for the report. Early next year they should be able to finish," the minister said.
As part of consultations, government has resolved to send a joint team to Israel, Germany, Canada, US, UK and South Africa for benchmarking.
Benefits. Mr Benjamin Cadet, a manager at Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd, said medical marijuana use is based on its effectiveness in managing debilitating pain, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, as well as its efficacy in treating severe weight loss commonly experienced by AIDS sufferers.
According to research gathered for the African Cannabis Report, Africa's legal cannabis industry could be worth more than $US 7.1 billion annually by 2023 if legislation is introduced in a number of the continent's major markets.