The government of Rwanda on Monday approved the cultivation and production of medical cannabis for export in a cabinet meeting that was chaired by the country’s president, Paul Kagame.
In a follow-up statement on Tuesday, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) said the approved regulatory guidelines “provide a framework for investment in the production and processing of medical cannabis” in the East African nation solely for “export to growing global markets.”
“Rwanda will begin to receive applications for licenses from interested investors for this high-value therapeutic crop,” the statement said.
With the global cannabis industry currently valued at $345 billion, the Rwandan government is looking at expanding its export revenue by joining the lucrative business, The East African reports. Monday’s announcement, however, came with the government’s reiteration that the use of the plant locally for medicinal and recreational purposes remains illegal.
“The investment framework does not affect the legal status of cannabis consumption in Rwanda, which remains prohibited,” RDB emphasized. “Medical cannabis produced in Rwanda is solely for export markets.”
Despite the outlined framework, Monday’s decision was met with mixed reactions, with some people arguing that the approval might be misconstrued and could possibly be used as an excuse by the country’s youth to abuse the drug if authorities do not strictly enforce local laws, according to The East African.
But in an interview on the state-owned television station on Tuesday, the country’s health minister, Dr. Daniel Ngamije, stressed: “This will not give an excuse for drug abusers and dealers. The law against narcotics is available and it will continue to be enforced.”
Per the country’s Penal Code, narcotics offenders can receive two-year prison sentences, and drug dealers, on the other hand, can be slapped with 20-years to life behind bars in addition to fines that can rise to $30,000. Doctors are also prohibited from prescribing cannabis for medicinal purposes and can receive two-year sentences as well as a $3,000 fine if found guilty of the act.
Speaking to The New Times, Aloysie Manishimwe, a researcher in medicinal plants, welcomed the government’s decision to enter the multi-billion dollar industry.
“I don’t think it’s a bad move since it comes to serve healthcare needs. Already there are many countries that have used cannabis for medicinal purposes,” she said.
Manishimwe, however, reminded authorities not to throw caution to the wind.
“Already drug abuse, specifically cannabis is rampant among young people in Rwanda. The task will be upon the government to have strong law enforcement,” she added.
Rwanda joins the likes of other African countries including South Africa, Malawi, Lesotho and Zambia to legalize the production and export of cannabis for medical purposes.
“The government of Rwanda expects the sector to generate significant export revenues and employment opportunities in high-value agriculture and agro-processing,” RDB said.