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Regulated cannabis industry would spur healthcare agenda.

Countries are beginning to consider decriminalising and legalising cannabis, fuelled by its medicinal and industrial benefits. In June 2016, the Malawian Parliament adopted a motion to legalise the non-psychoactive industrial hemp, but with emphasis on regulatory measures before the country could cultivate, process and export the hemp variety of cannabis.

In its third year of trial cultivation, the crop has shown immense potential with no reported negative incidents. RELIEVES PAIN Last year, US President Donald Trump signed the "Farm Bill", effectively exempting hemp from Schedule I drugs (drugs with high abuse potential with no medical use).

American farmers can now produce industrial hemp legally and states can research hemp and set up cultivation programmes. In April, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority awarded the first batch of licences for cultivation of medicinal cannabis to local companies, allowing the country to compete globally.

Uganda recently licensed an Israeli company, Together Pharma, to set up a marijuana oil extraction plant in Kampala. It plans to initially invest $5 million (Sh500 million).

All human beings have an endocannabinoid system, which naturally produces cannabis-like compounds, the main ones being anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) that bind to their receptors to produce beneficial effects. Cannabis has been shown to be beneficial in managing diseases ranging from cancer to epileptic seizures.

Hemp, the non-psychoactive breed of cannabis, is the most versatile crop known to humans with thousands of uses in industry. Cannabis oil relieves chronic pain in debilitating illnesses such as cancer in both children and adults.

A careful balance of the two main components of cannabis tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) has been demonstrated to kill cancer cells in mice. KILIMANJARO SATIVA The plant has also been shown to be effective in managing conditions including tumour reduction, epilepsy, Dravet's syndrome, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and anxiety.

Despite foreign cannabis-based medicines in the local market, medical knowledge on cannabis in Kenya is scanty. But a group of Kenyan medical practitioners may undergo a fellowship programme on medicinal cannabis by a US-based medical association.

In 10 years, the global medical cannabis industry is expected to be worth $50 billion (Sh5 trillion). In Colorado, regulated medical cannabis sales topped $6 billion (Sh600 billion) since the 2014 legalisation.

Industrial hemp has had numerous uses including production of medicines, food, paper products, textiles, body care products, construction materials, livestock feeds, fuel, nutritional supplements, essential oils and, recently, the biodegradable plastic critical in the fight against pollution. A well-regulated medicinal and industrial cannabis industry can generate numerous opportunities.

In his book, The Cannabis Story, lawyer John Ochola observes that 12 seeds of Kilimanjaro Sativa, a strain of cannabis, retail at 75 euros (Sh8,700). One plant can produce 100-1,000 seeds (Sh72,000) on the lowest yield.

MEDCINAL RESEARCH The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act of 1994, which binds Kenya to several international treaties, lists cannabis as a prohibited plant. Engagement with cannabis is only allowed to persons licensed by the board.

However, in the 25 years of the Act, this board has never been constituted, hampering any medicinal or industrial research on cannabis. Kenyan researcher Sammy Gwada Ogot's recent attempt to have the Senate decriminalise cannabis failed.

The MP for Kibra, Ken Okoth, has tabled a Marijuana Control Bill. Kenyan cancer patients, who are undergoing stressful and expensive medical procedures, can hardly wait to be granted access to medical cannabis and it is getting too late.

Parliament must urgently review the law with regard to cannabis. Dr Kabara is a pharmacist, health economist, principal lecturer at Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) and cannabis researcher.

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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Jun 2, 2019
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