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Pakistan is turning to cannabis for an economic high

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Pakistan’s government has taken the high road. Not in the way one would expect. It is legalising cannabis use for medicinal purposes, which will open the path for it to export hemp and its products amid economic distress.

In February, the Pakistan government passed an ordinance which led to the creation of the Cannabis Control and Regulatory Authority (CCRA). The CCRA is responsible for “regulating the cultivation, extraction, refining, manufacturing, and sale of cannabis derivatives for medical and industrial purposes”.

Nikkei Asia reports that Pakistan hopes to take advantage of its conducive growing conditions to enter the global cannabis market. The Islamic Republic could use cannabis to generate revenue through export, foreign investment and domestic sales to shore up its foreign reserves, Syed Hussain Abidi, chairman of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR), told Al Jazeera.

The inflation rate in Pakistan has gone up to 25% and the economic growth is at the fourth-lowest pace at 1.9%, according to the Asian Development Bank.

The economic crisis since May 2022 is Pakistan’s worst since the formation of the country.

The cannabis regulatory authority will consist of 13 members, including people from several government departments, intelligence agencies and the private sector. Forming such a body was first suggested in 2020, when Imran Khan was the Prime Minister. This shows the nation’s attempt to become a part of the global cannabis and cannabis-derivatives business.

“We are very serious about this initiative, and things are moving at a very fast pace,” a senior at the Special Investment Facilitation Council told Nikkei Asia.

The global cannabis market will reach $64.73bn this year, as per Statista.

Cannabis or hemp is not just a psychoactive substance and is used for medicinal purposes as well. Cannabis is also prescribed for anxiety, depression and chronic pain.

“Misuse of cannabis is possible, but then ephedrine (used to treat low blood pressure) is a lifesaving drug and is misused, too,” Pakistani healthcare professional Adnan Amin told Nikkei Asia.

“My daughter’s seizures were reduced from 100 fits a day to some days going without fits with his THC oil,” Amin said. “I was unable to procure the prescribed rare drugs from American hospitals due to stringent US regulations.”

Syed Hussain Abidi of PCSIR discussed with Al Jazeera how a regulator has been deemed necessary by the UN laws. It also puts a limit on how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be used, which is 0.3%.

“The UN laws say that if a country wants to produce, process and conduct sales of cannabis-related products, it must have a federal entity that will deal with the supply chain and ensure international compliance,” he added.

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