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Intervention by the new government will slow cannabis policy making in Pakistan

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A Pakistan Senate panel criticized efforts to expand the number of ministries involved in setting industrial cannabis policy after the cabinet headed by Shahbaz Sharif proposed expanding the powers that should be involved in setting up a legal framework.

The Sharif government, which took power after the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan in April 2022, has returned a policy summary from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) with a suggestion that the Ministries of Narcotics Control, Trade, National Food Security and Research. , as well as the Cabinet Secretariat, in policy making.

Members of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Science and Technology challenged the government’s request at a recent meeting, saying the Department of Science and Technology should continue to be the sole developer of the policy because it has taken the lead in developing a framework for cannabis thus far.

Expect more delays

The commission said it would appeal directly to Sheriff on the matter, but additional ministries have already been advised of the need to consider cannabis policy.

Pakistan approved the cultivation and processing of cannabis under government control in September 2020, placing the directive exclusively under the Ministry of Science and Technology. Supporters said the growing conditions in Pakistan make cannabis a potentially great crop in almost all regions. The plant is already growing in some places.

But the rule-making process, which has been slow to develop, is now expected to take on a more complex form, and consequently more time is being stretched.

Pakistan’s potential

Khan, the former Prime Minister, had pushed for the development of the hemp economy as one way to improve Pakistan’s foreign exchange position amid the country’s economic challenges, and suggested that hemp be a sustainable alternative to cotton production, a historically important industry which is in Pakistan.

Former Minister of Science and Technology Fouad Chowdhury had touted the potential of the sector and talked about high-tech farms focusing on non-traditional farming including hemp. Choudary’s plan also envisioned a thriving CBD sector and the conversion of leftover hemp fibers into bioenergy.

Major changes required

Proponents have suggested that the Pakistani cannabis sector could develop into a billion-dollar market, but they identified several key policy issues that still need to be addressed:

  • The Department of Narcotics should remove the word “hemp” from the definition of “narcotics” or define it separately as “synthetic hemp.”
  • CBD must be declared as a non-controlled substance and companies given permission to import under specific conditions, and customs informed that CBD is not a controlled substance.
  • The Medicines Regulatory Authority of Pakistan must grant market authorization for CBD as a pharmaceutical, herbal or nutritional product as a precursor in order to set the rules for that specific derivative.

Pakistan’s first cannabis license was granted to the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) to analyze things like local varieties, plant chemistry, potential industrial applications, and more.

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