Pakistan Establishes New Regulatory Agency for Medical Cannabis Management

Recent developments in Pakistan’s approach to medical cannabis could significantly impact the country’s future. In February, President Arif Alvi enacted an ordinance establishing the Cannabis Control and Regulatory Authority (CCRA). This agency is tasked with overseeing the cultivation, extraction, refining, manufacturing, and sale of cannabis products for both medical and industrial use. The CCRA’s board will consist of 13 members, including representatives from various government departments and intelligence agencies, as reported by Pakistan Today.

According to Syed Hussain Abidi, chairman of the Pakistan Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (PCSIR), the formation of the CCRA is in line with United Nations mandates. He explained to Al Jazeera that UN laws require a federal entity to manage the cannabis supply chain and ensure international compliance. The PCSIR developed the National Cannabis Policy in 2023, which laid the groundwork for the new ordinance.

The idea for a similar agency was first proposed in 2020 under former Prime Minister Imran Khan. The recent ordinance introduces penalties ranging from 10 million to 200 million Pakistani rupees (approximately $35,000 to $718,000 USD) for violations. It also involves the Pakistan Anti-Narcotics Force in monitoring illegal activities.

Although cannabis cultivation has been illegal in Pakistan, certain regions have a long history of growing the plant, largely ignored by the government until now. The new ordinance changes this by requiring licenses for cultivation. “Technically, cultivation is now legal since the ordinance has been passed, but we are still developing rules and procedures and awaiting the registration of the authority,” Abidi stated. Licenses will be valid for five years, and the government will designate permissible cultivation areas.

The regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan collectively have about 28,000 hectares (approximately 70,000 acres) where cannabis is currently grown. “We have a long-established tradition of cannabis cultivation. We need to avail this opportunity,” Abidi added.

Entrepreneurs like Aamir Dhedhi are eager to participate in the medical cannabis industry. Dhedhi was motivated by the positive effects of CBD on his mother, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He now collaborates with farmers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to modernize their practices and enhance product quality. “We have massive potential in this field to provide health benefits through CBD and offer affordable medical alternatives,” Dhedhi said. “This can benefit domestic users and increase export potential, bringing financial rewards to local growers.”

Suleman Shah, a grower from the Tirah Valley, shares this enthusiasm for medical cannabis. He noted that while the government has not posed any issues, competition from Afghanistan has been a challenge. “Since the Taliban banned cannabis cultivation, our business has improved,” Shah explained. He emphasized that a regulatory framework could further support farmers by providing expertise and aiding in the production of higher-quality products.

Despite these optimistic views, some, like former federal minister Fawad Chaudhry, worry that Pakistan may have missed its chance to capitalize on the medical cannabis market. “We wasted our potential and threw away the time advantage,” Chaudhry commented.

Robin Roy Krigslund-Hansen, co-founder of Formula Swiss, also expressed concerns about market saturation as more countries legalize cannabis. “When everybody is a producer and seller, then who will be the buyer?” he questioned. Krigslund-Hansen highlighted the challenges of maintaining high standards for medical-grade cannabis, including the significant costs associated with indoor cultivation to ensure consistent quality.

As Pakistan navigates these new regulations, the establishment of the CCRA marks a significant step towards integrating medical cannabis into the country’s agricultural and medical landscape.


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