Pakistan takes a big step forward in the hemp industry and makes a bold decision with its proposal to legalize home cultivation of medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp that contains legal levels, less than 0.3 percent, of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in compliance with most of world regulations in this market. Hemp production will take place in the Potohar region in North Punjab, where the climate is adequate for outdoor cultivation and production of quality plants.
After having overcome strong discrepancies between the government and the opposition, Pakistan’s Minister for Science and Technology, Mr. Fawad Chaudhry, announced enthusiastically on Twitter the Cabinet’s landmark decision of approval of the first @MinistryofST license for industrial and medical use of hemp in the country. Despite the traditional stigma around the plant and THC-containing cannabis still remaining illegal, this historical decision places Pakistan in a good position to leap into the growing world market for cannabidiol (CBD) since this chemical compound will definitely play a key role in the fields of therapeutic medicine and pharmaceutical research and could result in billions of dollars in revenue.
Opium poppy, heroin and cannabis have long been cultivated illegally in the northwestern area of Pakistan along the Afghan border but Minister Chaudhry has emphasized that farmers will be allowed to cultivate, harvest and process hemp only under strict government control. This clarification had to be made due to the fierce opposition of certain sections of the population who misinterpreted this decision as a green light to nationwide drug production. "The plant’s production was approved to be carried out only under government control for now," declared Chaudhry, adding that this control would ensure the necessary safeguards in the production so the initiative can be properly managed and implemented. Also, other measures will be adopted by his government to expand this crop production and allow further research on the matter. Thus, it is contemplated that in a second phase, both private companies and individuals may enter the market with the corresponding licenses in a near future.
With this plan, the Pakistani government aims to generate nearly a billion dollars in revenue over the next three years from economic activities as varied as the crop cultivation, final product manufacturing, agricultural research and import and export of medicinal cannabis.
Basically, this measure is part of the Ministry of Science’s larger initiative on agriculture. The newly implemented project is part of a general plan to develop non-traditional and unconventional agricultural practices. Hemp seeds will be used to produce oil; its leaves for medical products; stems will be used to produce fibers that will gradually replace the use of cotton in the textile industry, an industry that can generate a 25 billion dollars potential market and that is currently in decline due to the low prices of cotton fibers and the increasingly poor quality of these seeds. These two factors have led Pakistan to drop positions among the world top largest textile producing countries, a list in which it used to rank fourth. Therefore, the substitution of cotton for hemp fiber as the key raw material in the textile industry will facilitate the production of a wide variety of textile products, due to its versatility, and will generate an increase in the country's income, allowing the investment in the development of rural communities and promoting an industry that is experiencing a global boom and promises great streams of income.
For the Pakistani Government, hemp cultivation will definitely become a way to boost their economy, which has experienced a dramatic decline of its GDP for decades now. Thousands of jobs are expected to be created in sectors such as agriculture, research, manufacturing, transportation or commerce.
Finally, this project arises another paradox in such a conservative region, where, for instance, alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited among Muslims, but, at the same time, there are many who have a frankly open attitude towards cannabis use. Actually, cannabis plant was widely used in this region before Islam was adopted, as it is referred and mentioned in Hindu sacred books, describing its multiple healing benefits and ritual uses. It is also a plant that is practically endemic in that area, where you can easily find it as ditch weed even in the nation’s capital, Islamabad.