Zimbabwe has cleared the way for cannabis-based medical products to be sold for the first time as the southern African country eyes the industry valued at Sh148.5 billion ($1.25 billion).
The Medicines Control of Zimbabwe (MCZ) has opened applications for cannabis and hemp producers, manufacturers, importers, exporters and retail pharmacists.
The debt-ridden nation became one of the first African countries to legalise cannabis in 2018 but little has been done since to permit commercial production of the drug.
The MCZ has now released regulations that will guide investments in the sector as the country, sanctioned by the West, banks on the growing global cannabis market.
The country, which is one of the leading producers of tobacco in the world, is considering a shift from the golden leaf to cannabis as the global tobacco ban lobby continues to gather momentum.
Industry players have set a target for tobacco farmers to ensure that cannabis contributes a quarter of their income by 2025.
Last year, the country earned Sh97.29 billion ($819 million) from tobacco exports, which made it one of Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign currency earners.
Zimbabwe abolished the ban on the cultivation of cannabis for commercial purposes in 2019 and granted the first license for medical cannabis production the same year.
The country exported 30 tonnes of industrial hemp to Switzerland last year.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa May this year commissioned Sh3.2 billion ($27 million) medical cannabis farm and processing plant owned by Swiss Bioceuticals Limited.
At the time, he revealed that 57 entities had been issued cannabis production licenses and 15 of them were already operational.
Advocates of the use of cannabis-based products say they can be used to treat chronic pain, inflammation, migraines, epilepsy, depression and anxiety, among other ailments.
The use of cannabis for recreational purposes remains banned in Zimbabwe and thousands of people have been arrested this year for illegally cultivating the crop as the country tries to fight rampant drug abuse among young people