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Rwanda Legalizes Medical Cannabis

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jul 02, 2021   
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Doctors in Rwanda can now prescribe medical cannabis to patients, following a new ministerial order passed by legislators to recognize the medical value of the plant and legalize its medicinal use.

The order, which was passed on June 28, follows an October 2020 decision to legalize the cultivation of medical cannabis, but only for international export. This new order to legalize medical cannabis for domestic consumption brings Rwanda in line with a number of other African countries, including Lesotho, Morocco, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

How will access to medical cannabis work?

Ministerial Order No 003/MoH/2021, signed by the nation’s minister of health, Daniel Ngamije, and the minister of justice, Johnston Busingye, outlines a basic framework for the growing, processing, and eventual medical prescription of cannabis in Rwanda.

The new law will not limit the type of conditions that medical cannabis can be prescribed for, but prescriptions will only be able to be given out by specialist doctors. These specialists will be given a written notice of accreditation from the Rwandan Ministry of Health that gives them the authority to make cannabis prescribing decisions at their own discretion.

Doctors will be expected to give their patients sufficient information about cannabis medicine so that the patients can make an informed decision about whether they wish to pursue medical cannabis treatment. Before prescribing, the doctors are also asked to be confident that the medical cannabis prescription is medically necessary by performing individual assessments of each patient’s need.

Additionally, these specialist doctors will only be allowed to prescribe cannabis-based medicines for conditions within their own areas of specialist practice, as a way of curbing opportunities for misuse.

Licensing and guidelines for companies

The new law lists eight available licenses and activities allowed under each license. The license and certification types listed in the ministerial order include:

  • Cultivation licenses.
  • Import permits for seeds, genetic materials, and other planting material.
  • Export permits for seeds, genetic materials, and other planting material.
  • Cannabis and cannabis products processing licenses.
  • Cannabis and cannabis products import permits.
  • Cannabis and cannabis products export permits.
  • Finished cannabis and cannabis products registration certificates.
  • Research licenses.

Each license will be valid for five years before needing to be renewed. Individuals and firms interested in receiving any of the licenses will be required to meet all applicable prerequisite requirements and submit an application to the relevant governing authority.

Entities that receive one (or more) of these licenses will be allowed to operate only at their approved place of business. These establishments are also required to be heavily secured. According to reporting from the EastAfrican, these security measures include erecting double-layered fencing, having personnel patrol around this fencing, hiring a licensed private security service, and the installation of other security apparatus such as video surveillance cameras, watchtowers, intruder detection systems, and security lighting.

Establishments that are found to be violating the guidelines set out in the order can be subject to an administrative fine of anywhere between 1 million and 50 million Rwandan francs, or approximately $1,000-50,000 USD. For repeat offenders, the law allows this fine to be doubled.

The recreational use of cannabis remains prohibited in Rwanda and persons found to be using or cultivating the drug for recreational use subject to prosecution under the country’s anti-narcotics laws. This is currently punishable by fines of between half a million to 5 million Rwandan francs (approximately $500-5,000 USD) and between three to five years in prison.

First prescriptions more than 12 months away

The Rwandan Development Board (RDB) and the country’s government expect that this new domestic medical cannabis sector may generate significant revenue through exports and from the creation of new employment opportunities in the high-value agriculture and processing sectors.

However, it is expected that it may take more than a year for the nation’s ministry of health to create the necessary procedures for the prescribing and distribution of medical cannabis. Until these procedures are brought in, the Rwandan government will continue to consider any licensing applications made to its relevant departments.


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