It must be puzzling for the majority Malawians, particularly the poor, that have for years heard stories that their brothers and friends have been arrested for possession of cannabis, to not only hear that the country is now set to start growing cannabis but it will once again be prohibitive for the poor to cultivate it and sell it.
Granted its industrial hemp—not any ordinary marijuana or hemp that has now been sanctioned to be cultivated, still, help is help, to borrow a streetwise argument. And the people, the masses, have been priced out of the market, even before the game has begun.
According to a Gazette notice of the Cannabis Regulation Act, the application fee to cultivate and sell medical cannabis is set at $10 000 (K7.5 million) while for industrial hemp its $2 000 (K1 500 million). By any other measures, these are not fees ordinary Malawians will afford.
And the currency—dollars no rest— in which the law is quoting the licence fees is telling. It tells you the target is foreign companies, foreign investors as they are preferred to be called, but which in essence and on the street, are just called foreigners, period!
One has to scratch their head so high to find justification why so much has to be paid for the licences and whether limiting production—as surely the prohibitive fees will be the best and only way for the country to benefit from the market.
Questions remain unanswered: Are monopolies paying huge taxes the only way out of poverty and how is it possible for farmers to grow tobacco and not industrial hemp. The mere mention of tobacco reminds you that it’s the country’s economic cornerstone but one that is also on death throngs and urgently needs to be replaced. It also reminds you of the practice of creating monopolies at the expense of the poor
The development, though, is just a continuation of lack of transparency in how the country’s resources are run; how deals are made in the dark and turn.
We have lost out on Kayelekera. No Malawian knows what is happening to the oil and gas sector. The mining licences are in a mess. For the mess in the natural resources of this country, President Lazarus Chakwera’s State of the Nation (Sona) address was revealing; he cited how the United Arab Emirates lists Malawi among the top exporters of gold to the country, yet, for all we know, there is no single gold mine in operation in the country.
What we all hear, are stories of illegal mining. What we know, and is officially recognised is that there are several companies which have been given exploration licences and have for years taken samples out of these exploration areas out of the country. One company, a major construction firm, was granted an exploration licence for seven years and after expiry of that period, applied and obtained another exploration licence for another seven years.
And the vicious circle of poverty goes on and on. Nobody cares about governance. Nobody cares about the poor.
In the end, we criminalise poverty. The poor are not only given a raw deal when they are caught in desperate actions such as production of marijuana.
This cannot always be the case, let our people get jobs. They can first employ themselves by growing industrial hemp. When the companies make money, they might pay tax (which is stolen anyway in the government coffers), but the bulk of their income is spent out of the country.