Pakistan is turning to cannabis for an economic high

Pakistan’s government has taken the high road. Not in the way one would expect. It is legalising cannabis use for medicinal purposes, which will open the path for it to export hemp and its products amid economic distress.

In February, the Pakistan government passed an ordinance which led to the creation of the Cannabis Control and Regulatory Authority (CCRA). The CCRA is responsible for “regulating the cultivation, extraction, refining, manufacturing, and sale of cannabis derivatives for medical and industrial purposes”.

Nikkei Asia reports that Pakistan hopes to take advantage of its conducive growing conditions to enter the global cannabis market. The Islamic Republic could use cannabis to generate revenue through export, foreign investment and domestic sales to shore up its foreign reserves, Syed Hussain Abidi, chairman of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR), told Al Jazeera.

The Pakistani economy might actually get a much-needed high from cannabis.

The inflation rate in Pakistan has gone up to 25% and the economic growth is at the fourth-lowest pace at 1.9%, according to the Asian Development Bank.

The economic crisis since May 2022 is Pakistan’s worst since the formation of the country.

The cannabis regulatory authority will consist of 13 members, including people from several government departments, intelligence agencies and the private sector. Forming such a body was first suggested in 2020, when Imran Khan was the Prime Minister. This shows the nation’s attempt to become a part of the global cannabis and cannabis-derivatives business.

“We are very serious about this initiative, and things are moving at a very fast pace,” a senior at the Special Investment Facilitation Council told Nikkei Asia.

The global cannabis market will reach $64.73bn this year, as per Statista.

Cannabis or hemp is not just a psychoactive substance and is used for medicinal purposes as well. Cannabis is also prescribed for anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

“Misuse of cannabis is possible, but then ephedrine (used to treat low blood pressure) is a lifesaving drug and is misused, too,” Pakistani healthcare professional Adnan Amin told Nikkei Asia.

“My daughter’s seizures were reduced from 100 fits a day to some days going without fits with his THC oil,” Amin said. “I was unable to procure the prescribed rare drugs from American hospitals due to stringent US regulations.”

Syed Hussain Abidi of PCSIR discussed with Al Jazeera how a regulator has been deemed necessary by the UN laws. It also puts a limit on how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be used, which is 0.3%.

“The UN laws say that if a country wants to produce, process and conduct sales of cannabis-related products, it must have a federal entity that will deal with the supply chain and ensure international compliance,” he added.

There are strict fines for people misusing the regulations and buying cannabis for recreational purposes: a fine of Pakistani Rs 1 million to Pakistani Rs10 million for one person and Pakistani Rs 10,000,000 to Pakistani Rs 200,000,000 for companies, according to The Express Tribune.

This regulation is a welcome intervention as it would stop the illegal cultivation in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area. Now, the government can get revenue from medicinal cannabis and some more from penalties from people still using it for over-the-counter usage.

Licence will also be given for a five-year period. Only the government will have the final word on where cannabis can be grown legally.

“When there used to be cannabis cultivation in Afghanistan, we would often be a loss, unable to recoup our investment in growing the plant. But since [the] Taliban have placed a ban, our business is doing considerably better,” a farmer told Al Jazeera.

Such a regulation helps the farmers and the government and, therefore, it will be a welcome step. But we still have to see if Pakistan is able to produce excellent quality cannabis derivatives or whether the international market will retain its edge and the regulation will be of little help.

Published By:

India Today Web Desk

Published On:

May 8, 2024

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