Parliament on Thursday passed the Cannabis Regulation Bill to facilitate the growing of medicinal cannabis, a crop most members of Parliament (MPs) described as critical to economic diversification and an alternative cash crop to tobacco.
The Bill, tabled by Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Kondwani Nankhumwa, seeks to distinguish the criminalised Indian hemp from medicinal cannabis through regulation of research, cultivation, production, processing, possession, storage, export, sale, distribution, use and its products for medicinal, industrial or scientific purposes under prescribed conditions.
The Bill also proposes establishment of the Cannabis Regulatory Authority (CRA) to be responsible for licensing and regulating medicinal and industrial hemp programmes.
In an interview after the Bill was passed, Nankhumwa said the Bill was long overdue. He said the processes will now be implemented swiftly.
The minister said the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development through the Agricultural Extension Services department would embark on a civic education campaign to sensitise the masses to the difference between the allowed industrial hemp and the illegal Indian hemp commonly known among Malawians.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson on agriculture issues in Parliament Richard Chimwendo Banda urged government to put mechanisms that will ensure that ordinary Malawians benefit more from the crop than big estates and foreigners.
He also asked for balance in the CRA composition after noting that there are seven government officials against four members from professional bodies.
United Democratic Front spokesperson on agriculture in Parliament Lillian Patel said government should ensure that the law starts operating in the coming growing season.
Mangochi South West legislator Shadreck Namalomba (Democratic Progressive Party) said tobacco has failed the nation; hence, asked the government to regulate cannabis pricing to incentivise farmers and local investors.
Kasungu Central legislator Ken Kandodo (MCP) spoke against the K50 million fine and 25 years maximum prison sentence for contravening the provisions of the Bill, saying it was harsh considering that most growers will be smallholder farmers.
In his statement winding up debate on the Bill, Nankhumwa said some of the concerns MPs raised will be addressed by the regulations to be crafted to create a conducive environment for operationalising the law.
In 2018, former Ntchisi North legislator Boniface Kadzamira (Independent) moved Parliament through Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to draft a Bill to distinguish the criminalised Indian hemp from medicinal cannabis through cultivation, production and possession.
Yesterday, several MP paid tribute to Kadzamira for introducing the cannabis issue in the National Assembly for which he was labelled crazy but it was for national good.