Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) cleared Israeli firm, Together Pharma to start growing medical cannabis in Uganda, according to a license signed on March 18, 2019 by Lawrence Byensi, the acting UIA Executive Director.
According to Uganda Radio Network, the Ugandan Health Minister, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng said that she had never granted Together Pharma permission to start a marijuana farm in Uganda.
“I have never given such permission. Cabinet sat and said we need to do more research on this issue. The law allows only the minister of Health to approve and then other processes can go on. I have not done that,” Aceng said in an interview.
The National Drug Policy and Authority Act, 1993 provides that “No person shall, without the written consent of the Health Minister… cultivate any plant from, which a narcotic drug can be extracted”.
However, Together Pharma has produced a letter from UIA clearing them to start the venture in the country and another written by the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Gen Kahinda Otafiire reaffirming Uganda’s support to the company.
UIA cleared the firm in form of an investment license. “This investment License has been issued under Section 16 of the Investment Code, 1991. The provision of the Investment Code 1991 and Guidelines and Procedures brought into effect under it shall apply,” reads the March 18, 2019 document.
The license shows that the company will operate in Uganda as Industrial Globus Uganda Ltd and has land to grow medical cannabis for export in Kasese, Busongora County North 079, Hima Town Council. Its shareholders include Globus Pharma Inc. based in Israel and Industrial Hemp Uganda Ltd run by former Bunyaruguru MP, Benjamin Cadet.
The company indicates that its initial investment in Uganda is $5m (18.7bn Shillings). According to documents seen, the company also has a domestic loan of US$369M with the aim of facilitating the project.
It is not clear where this loan is coming from since no single commercial bank in Uganda can offer such a figure alone. The company intends to build a marijuana oil extraction plant in Kampala.
In a February 15, 2019 letter addressed to the chief operating officer of Together Pharma, Otafiire wrote: “Firstly, there is no single license given to grow hemp and medical cannabis in Uganda. The law requires that the applicant gets the necessary clearance from various ministries concerned and the National Drug Authority”.
The minister noted that Industrial hemp Uganda obtained no objection from NDA and notes that “the NDA Act section 14 gives the authority the power to grant license/permission to manufacture, import and export medical drugs in Uganda”.
“The government of Uganda is well aware of their operations in Kasese district and the various benefits the said project has in terms of employment to Ugandans, revenue generation, and technology transfer…,” reads Otafiire’s letter.
The letter, which came before the license was given, was intended to reassure investors in Together Pharma that the company’s planned investments in Uganda were on course.
Even then, the fact that the license was given without the knowledge of the minister of Health poses questions under whose monitoring is this venture going to be. NDA and Health ministry is expected to be fully involved in the project of that magnitude.