A brief synopsis of the cannabis laws in Lesotho

The Drugs of Abuse Act, 2008 (“the Act”) is the principal legislation which regulates the pharmaceutical sector in the Kingdom of Lesotho. The Act aims to ensure that certain drugs are available in Lesotho which would be used for medical, scientific and related purposes. The Act also aims to prevent the abuse of drugs, to prevent diversion from lawful trade of controlled chemicals, equipment and materials for the use in unlawful manufacture of such drugs. Furthermore, the Act also establishes the Lesotho Narcotics Bureau.

Cannabis, cannabis plants and cannabis resin are specifically defined in the Act. The cultivation, manufacturing, preparation, supply, and transit thereof is restricted. As such, the Act, pursuant to section 9 thereof, allows for the cultivation, manufacturing, acquisition and administration if the entity is an operator as defined in the Act. Therefore, an operator, is defined as any person who carries on a business of manufacture acquisition or supply of a drug of abuse. Cannabis is defined as a drug of abuse.

Operators are therefore allowed to apply for a license to allow for the cultivation, manufacturing, import, export, transportation and processing of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The recreational use of cannabis is still illegal in Lesotho and it carries criminal sanctions.

These operators’ licenses are generally valid for 12 months, renewable every year.

In order for an operator to import, export or transport cannabis, the operator must apply for a permit for such imports, exports and transport of cannabis. These permits apply to cannabis plants, cannabis seed, cannabis and cannabis resin.

The current legislative framework does not differentiate between cannabis containing THC or CBC, as the current definition deals with the collective description of cannabis.

During 2018 and in 2019, the Government of Lesotho published regulations, The Drugs of Abuse (Cannabis) Regulations (“the Regulations”). The 2019 Regulations repealed and replaced the 2018 Regulations.

The purpose of the Regulations is to track, control, manage and regulate the cannabis industry. It is also the purpose of the Regulations to set the criteria for the license application process, qualifications for operators and to set up structures and methods for the tracking of cannabis, from seed to sale.

The Lesotho Narcotics Bureau is tasked with assessing license applications, renewals and providing the operators with advice and assistance as regards the laws and regulations governing the conduct of a drugs of abuse business as well as the role of the International Narcotics Control Board.

The Regulations also deal with the requirements for and set the standard for qualifications to be engaged in a cannabis business. It contains provisions dealing with the standards for security, premises, manufacturing practices, cultivation practices, record keeping, seed-to-sale requirements and testing of cannabis.

Labelling and packaging as well as waste management is provided for in the Regulations as it also deals with the transportation, importation and exportation of cannabis.

Operators can apply for licenses which allows indoor or outdoor cultivation; however, outdoor cultivation is restricted to cannabis strains that have a THC content below 1% and that it is used for producing CBD isolate, only feminized seeds are used, the male plants must be destroyed, and cannabis seed is obtained from a registered seed supplier.

Failure to comply with the Act and the Regulations constitute a criminal offence and when convicted, it can lead to 5 years of imprisonment of a fine of not less than R20 000.00 (ZAR) or both, and in the case of a company, a fine of not less than R100 000.00 (ZAR).

This article was written by Albertus Kleingeld. Albertus is a director and commercial law specialist at Kleingeld Mayet. He regularly acts as a litigator in the High Court and advises on commercial and corporate matters including the formation and registering of corporations in Lesotho. Albertus has acted for a wide range of clients that include multinational-corporations, government institutions, non-governmental organizations, private individuals, listed and unlisted companies. His experience stretches across corporate, commercial, company and cannabis law in various sectors both in South Africa and Lesotho.