Report in Uganda casts doubt on Israeli firm’s cannabis farm plans

Ugandan Investment Authority and the local police tell the nation’s New Vision daily they don’t know of any cannabis farm plans, which would be frowned upon

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative: A worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near Safed, August 31, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Illustrative: A worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near Safed, August 31, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

The Ugandan Investment Authority and local police have told Uganda’s New Vision daily they don’t know anything about an Israeli firm setting up a cannabis farm in Uganda and they would not view growing cannabis in a favorable light anyway.

Earlier this month the Israeli firm Together Pharma Ltd, whose shares are listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, said it had ordered cannabis seeds for a farm it is setting up “in these days” in Uganda, targeting sales of cannabis produce for January 2019.

In a report published on Tuesday, the Ugandan Investment Authority told New Vision, an English language newspaper, that it does not provide licenses for investors to cultivate marijuana.

New Vision queried the authority about Israel’s Together Pharma Ltd. statement regarding the farm.

“That is an area we do not even handle. It is illegal. Probably the health ministry and National Drug Authority [NDA] might know. We do not even license companies to grow marijuana for medical purposes,” Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) Executive Director, Basil Ajer is quoted as saying to New Vision.

“Since not all land in Uganda is owned by the government, such a company could also partner with an individual to grow the crop on his or her land,” Ajer said. But the NDA mandate does not extend to the cultivation of cannabis, he said.

A source at the NDA told New Vision that the planting of cannabis in Uganda is under police control. The NDA only monitors the content of narcotics in imported drugs, the source said, referring the reporter to the Ugandan police, which controls the planting of cannabis.

Emilian Kayima, the spokesperson of the police, told New Vision that the force has not been approached about any cannabis investor, but added that the police would not favorably view such an undertaking.

“There is no way the police can give such approval,” New Vision cites Kayima as saying. “We are already having grave problems. It doesn’t matter the purpose of planting it. You cannot guarantee it won’t be misused. We would be doomed if the country chose that direction.”

According to Uganda’s law, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 2015, people involved in the manufacture, production, sale, or distribution of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances commit an offence and are liable, on conviction, to a fine or imprisonment of as much as five years or both, the New Vision report said.

The law also prohibits the cultivation of any plant, including cannabis, from which narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances may be extracted, without permission from the health minister, New Vision said.

A spokesman for Together Pharma declined to comment on the report. However, in a filing to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on July 9, the company said that its partners in the project are in touch with local regulators, lawyers, and other government entities regarding the project.

The company also said in the filing that it has reached an agreement with a supplier to set up a 30 dunam (30,000 sq. meters) facility for the growth of medical cannabis, and to the best of its knowledge it is allowed to grow medical cannabis in the country. The statement also said that the local partners in the African country had attained government permission to grow medical cannabis and had raised medical cannabis in the past, as part of an experiment on a small part of the farm. Export of medical cannabis is subject to permits from the government, the statement said.

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