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  • Confirms plantation of hemp at his farm
  • Says he had leased out that part of farm
  • 32 plants seized by police
  • Doesn’t fear going to jail for industrial hemp

LAWRENCE SERETSE, KEABETSWE NEWEL, LETLHOGILE MPUANG

Sacked ex-Minister of Agriculture of Food Security Patrick Ralotsia wants government to legalize industrial hemp for commercial purposes. Hemp is a member of the cannabis family which includes marijuana or dagga as it is commonly known in Botswana.

“There are cabinet ministers who want to deal in industrial hemp. To the best of my knowledge I know that they support the legalization of industrial hemp,” he said.

After Ralotsia was relieved ofhis ministerial duties, The Botswana Gazette broke the news via its social media platforms that the former Minister was under investigation  on suspicion that he was dealing in marijuana. Ralotsia confirmed the investigations that had happened at his farm in Kanngwe, but said he is clean.

On Saturday, The Botswana Gazette visited Ralotsia’s farm to investigate. It emerged that there were 13 high-tech Green Houses inside his farm. Inside each one of the green houses, a certain flower called Marigold was planted in two separate lines. In between those flowers, there were 32 grown plants of the suspected dagga which the Police have since uprooted and taken as evidence. The scent of the Marigold flower is often used to mask the scent of cannabis to mask the latter’s pungent aroma.

Ralotsia confirmed that indeed the Police are investigating and have uprooted what he described as “industrial hemp” at the farm. He revealed that he has leased the piece of land where the green houses are located to Fresh Standards, a company that farms industrial hemp in other Southern African countries like South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. Dealing and farming marijuana and industrial hemp in these countries is legal.Even though growing the same plants is prohibited in many states around the world including Botswana.

“When I leased my farm to them, they told me they were into horticulture. They said they also would like to do production of industrial hemp, but in the course of time. I told them that in as much as they would like to do that, it should be in order and we do the necessary consultations with all relevant stakeholders and ministries because industrial hemp is apparently somewhat associated with Motokwane (marijuana),” said Ralotsia.

“We did that. There is a committee working on that. I think out of excitement Fresh Standards wanted to experiment with the plant in relation to Botswana’s environment. I did not know they planted it. I trusted that they would stick to my instruction,” he said.

According to the ex-minister, the committee consists of the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS), Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services (DISS), Ministry of Agriculture, Crops Department and the Ministry of Health. He said he only became aware of the hemp plants on his land when the police pounced.

“I learnt that they had planted 32 plants, when arriving from Gaborone. My employees had been taken by the police for questioning. One of the officials of the company was also present there,” he said.

He said although the Minister of Agriculture is empowered by the Crops Production Act to provide a waiver for farming of such plants, he personally decided that since the matter was ‘too sensitive’, extensive consultations were needed.

“In fact, initially Fresh Standards approached the permanent secretary and the Police who in writing, gave them green light. It appears it is only the Minister who can give a waiver and publish it in Government Gazette,” he further revealed.

Stefan Botha, a consultant hired by Fresh Standard could not be reached for comment, with allegations claiming that he has left the country. Botha, according to investigations is a high profile expert in farming industrial hemp and marijuana and has a traceable regional experience.

“I know the economic benefits of industrial hemp and will not change my mind. I am prepared to go to jail for that,” Ralotsia said.

Near Bagali, Botswana Police Service Public Relations and Communications Officer said investigations were still fresh and no arrests have been made thus far. He said once satisfied they will parade the suspects and take the matter before the courts of law.

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