WATCH | Lesotho, Africa's medical cannabis pioneer

Dagga. (Getty, file)
Dagga. (Getty, file)

Vast white greenhouses sit high up on the slopes of Lesotho's Marakabei town, hidden from view.

It's not fruit or vegetables, however, growing under the 18 plastic covers, but thousands of cannabis plants.

READ | Lesotho officials' cannabis 'conflict'

The cannabis is grown legally by the Lesotho-based company Medigrow and is regulated by the government.

"We have three rows that contain 1 200 plants each. That's 3 600 plants across the whole structure," said Medigrow's head of production Albert Theron, gazing proudly over the crop.

In 2017, the tiny landlocked kingdom of 2.1 million people decided to tap into the booming medical marijuana industry, becoming the first country in Africa to allow the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Investment

In order to meet legal standards, most traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the main psychoactive constituent responsible for marijuana's intoxicating effects - are removed from the seeds.

The remaining medical version is primarily made of the non-psychoactive substance, cannabidiol (CBD), and can only be 0.03% THC.

Medigrow has invested $19.3m in cannabis-growing facilities around the country's capital, Maseru.

A heliport is also being built to ensure the cannabis - commonly referred to as "green gold" - is shipped safely and swiftly, said head of operations Relebohile Liphoto.

The investment is spurred by the industry's positive outlook.

The global market for medical cannabis is currently estimated at $150bn and could reach $272bn in 2028, according to Barclays Bank.

"At the moment we have almost 2 000kg of biomass and we are going to produce more than 1 000 litres of CBD oil," said Liphoto.

"Depending on the market, we can sell cannabis oil at between $6 000 and $21 000 per litre."

Nicknamed "Kingdom in the Sky", Lesotho is the only country in the world whose entire territory sits higher than 1 400m above sea level.

Deputy health minister Manthabiseng Phohleli said that the legalisation of cannabis presented "a huge opportunity for the country", which boasts 300 days of sunshine per year.

"It attracts investors," she said. "So far we have around 10 businesses operating on the territory."

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