Prince Harry's favourite African country is poised to become one of the world's biggest producers of medicinal cannabis oil when a British-owned processing plant is opened today.
King Letsie III of Lesotho will join investors to open the Verve Lesotho cannabis processing facility in a lavish ceremony as the land-locked nation seeks to a foothold in one of the world's fastest-growing industries.
The company's British founders claim the extraction plant will produce more cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis extract which some say has extraordinary healing powers, than any other facility in the southern hemisphere.
“We are poised to become of the lowest cost producers of medical cannabis extracts in the world,” said Sam Matekane, a prominent Lesotho businessman who teamed up with Brits Richard Davies and Joe Simon to set up the venture.
Lesotho, which long been home to an illicit cannabis farming industry, is one of the first African countries to cash in on the growing craze for “medicinal” CBD, an extract sold in crystal or oil form that has been touted as a cure all for everything from anxiety to epilepsy.
The extract is also sold in moisturizers, tongue drops, and food supplements. CBD infused tampons have even been marketed as a solution to period pain.
Sajid Javid, then the Home Secretary, changed the law to allow doctors in England, Scotland and Wales to prescribe cannabis-based medicines last year following a campaign by the parents of severely epileptic children who said the drugs improved their symptoms.
But critics say the compound's medical benefits are unproven, and Epidiolex, one of the most prominent epilepsy medicines, is not yet licensed in the UK.
Mr Simon, a Chelsea-based film producer who became the first investor in the venture, said he was convinced of CBD's health benefits.
“When Richard first called to tell me we’ve been offered an opportunity to open factory to produce CBD oil in Lesotho, to be honest, I didn’t have a clue what that was,“ he said.
“I rang my grandmother and asked her about it: She told me “Joey,. I’ve been taking it for years, its helped my arthritis and I threw away my prescription meds’. So I googled it and asked around and rang Richard back and said: ‘Yes, I’m in.’”
The three men say their investment will contribute to a rapidly growing industry with the potential to create hundreds of jobs for cannabis farmers and seedling producers, chemists, and office workers.
Mr Matikane and his new British partners have built a school near the factory for 2000 children.
Mr Davies said the plants farmed for CBD production have low grades of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the constituent in cannabis which gives users a high, and that each stage of the production process would be strictly monitored to comply with the law.