The legal dilemma of hemp production in Pakistan

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In September 2020, Federal Government approved and granted permission for the cultivation of Industrial Hemp for medicinal, scientific, and industrial purposes to the Ministry of Science & Technology. The said permission shall be regulated in terms of Rule 2(ix), 8, 9, and 10 of the Control of Narcotics Substances Rules 2001.

Against this backdrop, an “Expression of Interest” (EOI) in the shape of a Joint Venture (JV) for Hemp Production for Medicinal, Scientific, and Industrial Purposes was made by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).

In furtherance of which the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, while exercising his powers under Article 89 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973, was pleased to issue an Ordinance No XIII of 2020 titled “The Special Technology Zones Authority Ordinance 2020”.

The detailed policy was also drafted for PCSIR by me which shall play an integral part in regulating and licensing hemp for medicinal use in Pakistan.

Officials in Pakistan’s government, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain in particular, encouraged hemp legalization and production in efforts to relieve fiscal deficits and Pakistan’s struggling economy alongside its medicinal benefits.

 

Considering the industrial hemp market is worth about $25 billion globally, Pakistan’s science and technology minister, Fawad Chaudhry, says Pakistan is aiming for a profit of $1 billion over the next three years by joining the global hemp market. Exports in hemp can target CBD oils and cannabis-based products and can be a sustainable cotton replacement during slowdowns within the cotton industry.

Vast economic potential

Cannabis in Pakistan is illegal for recreational use, although since September 2020, extracts of cannabis can be used for industrial and medical use. Cannabis is widely consumed in Pakistan as charas and bhang.

Before influence from the British and American governments, cannabis was widely used within Central Asia medicinally, as a staple, for textile, and for psychotropic effects. It was revered, as stated within the Atharvaveda, as one of five sacred plants and it was believed that a guardian angel exists within it.

A 1983 report by the Pakistan Narcotics Control Board states that drug usage was largely stable in the 1950s-1970s with opium and cannabis being common, but there was an upsurge in cannabis usage by middle-class youths in the late 1960s and early 1970s due to the influence of Western pop culture. However, by the 1980s the habit fell from fashion in the middle class.

On Tuesday, Sep 1st, 2020 the Federal Government of Pakistan approved the legalization of hemp production. This decision came after the realization of the fact that the country has a natural abundance of cannabis. Moreover, Pakistan can earn over one billion USD from its products. It can boost the economy of Pakistan.

Cannabis is widely used in Pakistan, and smoked as charas (hashish) or consumed as a drink as bhang. According to a 2013 report, 6.4 million people in Pakistan consume cannabis. With the legalization of Cannabidiol, the country is looking ahead to export non-psychoactive hemp and other derivatives to the international market.

Now after getting legal status and coming under government check, hemp will now use to make products like CBD oil, hemp seeds, medical products, and industrial products.

According to experts, Hemp production in Pakistan has been termed as a “watershed movement” for greater medical research and legalization globally. According to Helga Ahmed, a German environmentalist who has been living in Pakistan for the past 60 years, “Hemp is highly resistant to bad weather. There are no pesticides needed in its production, which makes it eco-friendly and safe. It can also be grown in abundance on little land and requires less water than cotton.”

Ahmed has been actively lobbying for the legalization of hemp production in the country and noted that the applications of hemp go beyond consumer products like textiles and CBD oils. She shared that greener hemp production practices can be leveraged to tackle climate change and promote sustainable social housing.

Monopoly in hemp production?

Despite its potential socioeconomic benefits, Pakistan faces bottlenecks in ramping up hemp production. Environmentalists who have been lobbying for hemp’s legalization are worried about the vertical integration model the government may adopt.

“Hemp is an inherently carbon negative plant, but if the government goes solely with vertical integration, it will become carbon positive,” Mo Khan, Green Gate Global, UK, told DW. “Technology needs to be brought in but also the indigenous knowledge base of farmers that have been tending hemp over the past 2,000 years,” he said.

Khan, who has been working with grassroots farmers, said allocating at least 25% of the hemp production to small-scale farmers was the only way to ensure its sustainable production. He also noted that there are significant logistical challenges involved even if the climate and landscape are ripe for hemp, pointing to the lack of adequate infrastructure and onerous licensing and certification requirements in the country.

Junaid Zaman, the CEO of Shamanic Biohacker, launched a successful CBD e-commerce venture in 2020. His operation does not have a local supply chain, and the CBD extract used is sourced internationally through reputable biotech lab partners that adhere to the US Food and Drug Administration regulations.

The carrier oil used in the finished product, however, is sourced and made locally. Zaman plans on moving this supply chain in-house once the locally grown crop is available in March next year in Pakistan.

But such startups worry that major contracts will be allotted to existing big players. “As per my understanding, the approved license to grow industrial hemp as a crop in three districts has gone to existing and established players from the tobacco industry,” Zaman told DW.

“The multinational organizations concerned will this year apparently grow the crop instead of tobacco in those districts with the approval.”

Observers, however, remain optimistic and believe that Pakistan has the potential to emerge as an industry leader in this sector if the government avoids repeating the mistakes of other countries and actively engages local and foreign experts to ensure sustainability.

Severe judicial scrutiny

The term ‘Hemp’ has been subject to judicial scrutiny. Under the Control of Narcotics Substance Act of 1997, it is illegal to produce, manufacture, extract, prepare, possess, offer for sale, sell, purchase or distribute cannabis in Pakistan.

Although after acquiring a permit from the provincial or federal government its cultivation is allowed for medical, scientific, or industrial purposes. If found in violation of the above, it is punishable with imprisonment which may extend to seven years, with a fine, or with both.

Enforcement of laws against hard drugs is prioritized in Pakistan, while the personal use of cannabis is often overlooked. This is particularly true in various tribal regions of Pakistan, where cannabis is sometimes sold in public markets.

In the year 2020, a Petition was filed before the Sindh High Court seeking to legalize the possession and consumption of 10 grams of cannabis. However, the court expressed its displeasure and reprimanded the Petitioner, and dismissed the Petition (Order dated 6th November 2020 by the Sindh High Court).

In the year 2020, a Single Bench of the Federal Shariat Court was pleased to acquit an accused charged with 27 sacks of hemp due to failure by the prosecution to prove its case (YLR 2020 Federal Shariat Court Note 4).

In the year 2015, the Lahore High Court was seized of a matter with regard to Hemp and the High Court was pleased to allow post-arrest bail to an accused on the ground that the case of the accused was one which was covered under Article 4 of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979(Order dated 20th August 2015 by the Lahore High Court).

In the year 2008, a Division Bench of the Lahore seized of a matter regarding Hemp was pleased to grant post-arrest bail to an accused on the ground that “Shang” was not hemp as defined in S.2(d)(ii) of Control of Narcotics Substances Act, 1997 and made the case of the accused one of further inquiry in terms of Section 497 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code 1898 (PCrLJ 2008 Lahore High Court 750).

In the year 2007, a Division Bench of the Lahore High Court was pleased to grant bail to an accused who was a woman and nothing was recovered from her in a case pertaining to hemp as the case was one that fell within the scope of Article 4 of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979 which carried a maximum sentence of two years R.I. (YLR 2007 Lahore High Court 3021).

In the year 2007, a Single Bench of the Karachi High Court was pleased to acquit an accused charged with possession of Hemp (MLD 2007 Karachi High Court 97).

In the year 2000, a Division Bench of the Karachi High Court seized of with a case concerning Hemp was pleased to grant bail to an accused on the ground that the accused was no more required for the purpose of investigation and trial of the accused had not begun as yet. The substance recovered from the accused though fell within the scope of Prohibition (Enforcement of Hudd) Order, 1979, yet the same had not been mentioned in the Control of Narcotics Substances Act, 1997.

Although the legalization of Hemp production is said to bring economic benefits to the country, however, the same might also have some legal repercussions!

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