Hemp Cultivators Anticipate Victory

Hemp leaves
Hemp leaves

In just over three months, Gaborone High Court judge Chris Gabanagae will make a landmark ruling over hemp cultivation in Botswana.

Gabanagae on Friday listened to a case in which Fresh Standard (Pty) Ltd is challenging a decision by the then permanent secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security to withdraw an exemption to produce hemp.

The company was granted written exemption to produce hemp for industrial and medical purposes on October 18, 2018, by the then Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Patrick Ralotsia. However, on March 29, 2019, the ministry’s PS withdrew the initial exemption granted by Ralotsia.

Back in court, the Attorney General (AG) acting on behalf of the government, in its defence to the company’s review application, raised preliminary points of law for the court to dismiss the matter.

The State had pleaded with the court to throw out the matter without a hearing citing non-compliance with Court Rules by the applicant. The State said the application should not be condoned by the court as it was brought later than four months after the handing down of the decision or conclusion of the proceedings complained of.

However, Gabanagae dismissed efforts by the AG to use technicalities to end the case. “The applicant has not made an application for leave to file its review application out of time. The applicant has instead proceeded to file the actual review application, although not having obtained leave to do so,” argued the AG.

Gabanagae said the AG’s preliminary points of law for the company to make an application for leave to file its review application out of time is without merit, essentially ruling that the court ought to hear the review application as it touches on a subject of national importance.

Fresh Standard attorney, Charles McErick spoke to The Monitor following the Friday’s short court appearance stating that they fancy their chances of success.

“The most basic issue today was to determine whether the PS had issued an exemption lawfully and determine whether the withdrawal by the PS was rightly done. The withdrawal by the PS was not delegated by the minister. The Plant Protection Act only gives the minister the right to withdraw and exempt solely,” McErick said.

“The PS says he is the one who issued the exemption and should be able to withdraw. The minister on the other hand disposed of an affidavit that they had a meeting with the PS and agreed to exempt and the minister instructed the PS to issue the exemption letter. In relation to the withdrawal, the minister was shocked to find out in the news that the exemption was withdrawn.”

He argued that the PS was not on record and only a legal secretary presented second-hand information and believes that puts them in a position to have the ruling in their favour.

“We are hopeful that the ruling will be in our favour because the respondent has not disputed the facts. My client used over P900 million to kickstart the project. We do not look to be compensated for the uprooted plants. They should understand that he wants to develop hemp like other countries. They just want to be given back their exemption and they would cultivate hemp for industrial and medicinal use,” he said.

McErick said it was important that stakeholders are brought on board for the benefit of the country. He said his client is ready to pause cultivation and develop a value chain and any other person who wants to cultivate hemp can be granted the exemption and go-ahead. Meanwhile, the applicants remain hopeful to move the needle tip to a victory.

Editor's Comment
Isn’t There A Better Way?

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