Heralded as the first country to have officially legalized cannabis in Africa, word on the street in Lesotho though is that 7 licences have already been issued to foreign investors only.
With all the hype around freeing the weed it can be really tough when trying to separate the rumours and urban legends from the facts. Equally difficult is not overlooking something simply because it sounds way to big or absurd to be even close to true. Lesotho has fast become the center of cannabis orientated attention and headlines when the news went viral that a South African company acquired a medical research license in the otherwise relatively unknown country.
Despite Lesotho feeling somewhat like a province of South Africa it is most certainly independent and faces more than its fair share of economic and political problems. It is perhaps this adversity that has created a somewhat relaxed view of a plant which has become a naturalized part of the nations culture over hundreds of years. Lean cannabis plants pepper urban areas along roadsides as if just another weed or shrub among the cattle and mielies that dominate the landscape. Besides, you may need to travel quite deep into the remote and picturesque valleys to find some of the higher grade legendary Lesotho ganja that the nation is possibly best known for.
This casual’ish attitude towards cannabis and the very obvious need for economic upliftment have culminated in the country issuing multiple licences for medical and research purposes. News sources report that only two have been issued but word on the street from multiple sources is that it is in fact as many as seven and that due to security concerns the government refuses to publicly disclose who these have been given to. The mood among rural communities and legalization activists is that the license holders are all likely foreign companies who have the capital and capacity to quickly invest in cannabis projects, something that is a significant economic barrier to entry for locals in a country where over a quarter of the population are unemployed.
While there is certainly progress being made on the medical dynamics of cannabis in the Lesotho, the plant otherwise remains strictly illegal for any other purpose. This was recently well highlighted when a large bust took place at their border. Interestingly the family of Lesotho’s deputy minister of health, ’Manthabiseng Phohleli, became embroiled in the drug-smuggling scandal after police found more than three-and-a-half tonnes of cannabis worth R5-million in a truck belonging to her husband as it crossed into South Africa.
Contacted by Daily Maverick for comment this week, she said the incident was “an unfortunate misuse of my husband’s truck, and should not be associated with the ministry’s issuance of cannabis licences, which are strictly for medical purposes” adding that only the liquid extract could be legally exported.
“I know this is being used to pull me down on my political career,” emphasizing that she no longer had shares in her husband’s business, and that their careers were in no way connected.
Whether the Deputy Minister’s link to this bust is a matter of political conspiracies due to her departments involvement with issuing the licenses or just a case of getting caught with her hand in the kushie jar will have to be something that you make up your own mind on. Whatever the case may be for how legalization plays out in Lesotho, one thing is almost certain… we are probably going see rich white men get even richer as Cannabis Colonization begins to take root in Africa.