It is now legal to grow, process and sell mbanje in Zimbabwe, but this does not mean throwing a few seeds in your backyard and waiting for a crop: There is a 32-page statutory instrument giving the rules and regulations that will be the bible of all involved in the business if they want to stay out of jail.
Statutory Instrument 218 Agricultural Marketing Authority (Industrial Hemp) Regulations was gazetted yesterday by Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Dr Anxious Masuka, after consultation with the with the board of the Agricultural Marketing Authority and using his powers in section 50 of the Agricultural Marketing Authority Act.
The object of these regulations “is to regulate the production, procurement, distribution, possession, sale, provision and transportation of industrial hemp”.
And industrial hemp is not just mbanje, it is “the plant cannabis sativa and any part of the plant, including the seeds thereof, and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis”.
That 0,3 percent limit, incidentally, cannot be exceeded. Growers have to present samples to approved laboratories and if your crop is a bit too potent, well bye-bye crop; it must be destroyed. On the other hand, your crop has to be good quality, by law, and you need to hire someone knowledgeable to be in charge of quality assurance.
Growing, researching or dealing in mbanje requires a permit. There are three types: general grower’s, research and breeding, and industrial hemp merchant’s. The application fee for the first two, and the renewal fee, is US$200. The merchant needs to fork out US$500.
The general grower can grow, process and sell mbanje products, but can only use approved cultivars and varieties and the permit can narrow what an individual holder can grow down to just one variety. The research permit holder can hold non-approved cultivars, but only for research. General hemp farmers must grow at least 1ha.
The merchant permit does not allow the merchant to grow the stuff directly, although a merchant can contract farmers to do this, but does allow the merchant to supply or procure industrial hemp within Zimbabwe, to process it into specific products laid out in the permit, and to possess industrial hemp for the purposes in the permit.
Permit holders have to be citizens or permanent residents of Zimbabwe, and that includes a majority of directors for a company although the Agriculture Minister can exempt an individual from this requirement and the AMA can exempt a company.
The application for any permit requires quite a bit of detail: three copies of the plan of the field being used, along with its geo-coordinates, proof of citizenship, permanent residence or exemption, and a declaration that the permit applicant is familiar with the provisions of the Agricultural Marketing Authority Act.
But that is just the start. The application has to be accompanied by a security clearance, for: the authorised person in charge; the responsible person in charge; the alternate responsible person in charge; the individual for an individual permit or each officer and director of the company for a company application.
And then the applicant has to describe, in detail, how they propose to keep records that ensure compliance with the regulations (and a lot of records are required), allow the AMA to audit those records, and ensure that orders and inventories of industrial hemp can be reconciled, that is no leakages from the legal marketing.
And you have to attach the fee. A separate application and fee is needed for each field.
Permits can be refused on a lot of grounds, including fake information, lack of security, official information from the police all the way up the United Nations that the applicant has been involved in the drug business, or the applicant refuses to allow a requested inspection (another US$200).
Permit holders have to make sure their fields are secure, that only those who need to be in the “cultivation area” are allowed in and that any unauthorised intrusions are recorded, including the date and time of the intrusion, the identities of the intruders and the action taken.
There has to be an authorised person in charge and a responsible person in charge, with alternates if necessary, and these people have to be approved in advance and the AMA has to be told of all changes and all changes to record-keeping.
Before anything is planted full details of varieties and the like have to be given to the AMA and after material is harvested everything has to be labelled. All residue in a harvested field has to be destroyed in seven days.
Those possessing, processing or supplying industrial hemp have to have approved premises, must destroy any mbanje plant growing in the processing area, have to label everything in detail and have to keep the AMA informed of staff changes and of any convictions for drug offences and any thefts. Detailed reports have to be given each year.
Growers have to follow good farming practices and the AMA can inspect when it likes to ensure this, and there are requirements for compulsory tests at approved laboratories and the AMA can in any case order a lab test at any time. Mbanje that flunks the tests can be ordered destroyed, although there is an appeal process.
Permit holders have to destroy plants that grow outside their approved fields and there are rules on the destruction of abandoned fields or stocks.
Destruction is covered in the regulations. It has to be done in front of five people: a superintendent or above of the police plus senior officials of zimra, Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe, the Justice Ministry and the AMA or Agriculture Ministry.
The regulations detail the procedure for imports and exports and devote several pages to the records that need to be kept.
Failure to follow the regulations can see permits cancelled, along with a jail sentence of four months, a level four fine or both.