The pros and cons of growing medical cannabis commercially 

Source: The pros and cons of growing medical cannabis commercially – The Standard May 6, 2018

The most progressive and open-minded decision to emerge out of the Zanu PF-led government in a long time has been to decriminalise the growing of cannabis, also known as marijuana.

By Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto

But like any other cropping activity, it is not going to be a walk in the park. One might need a bank loan and I am not sure the local banking industry has warmed up to this idea because of the stigma surrounding it. In addition, general start-up costs for cannabis growing, particularly for commercial purposes tend to be higher than potential growers realise. In addition, for those committed to growing cannabis in the soil, making the best soil may be the one most important step you take. Temptations to do shortcuts on this aspect will certainly be costly and a waste of valuable and scarce resources.

I am interested in the medical aspects of organic cannabis; that is why this discussion is about growing medical cannabis commercially. Many people in Zimbabwe have been growing cannabis illegally in their backyards for recreational use or to sell and make a buck here and there, but that is really not my focus in this paper.

Why my focus is on organic medical cannabis

My focus is on organic medical cannabis because I am a current user of medical cannabis oil. I was recently diagnosed with a condition called pulmonary sarcoidosis, an inflammatory condition with auto-immune tendencies, which the medical fraternity throughout the world since its discovery 100 years ago still do not know what causes it nor how to treat it. So they treat the symptoms mainly with prednisone, a steroid, a dreadful medicine, to say the least. To cut a long story short, prednisone is both a saint and a sinner.

One skin sarcoidosis warrior referred to it as “the only uncle in the family with the resources to send you to college and yet he swore you to secrecy for molesting you repeatedly when you were growing up”. As it tries to minimise the further growth of granulomas in the lungs and lymph nodes, prednisone also causes the premature onset of a whole host of other ailments such as, osteoporosis and arthritis. It further lowers your immunity levels, and retains water so you gain weight which has implications on the development of other ailments like diabetes. It escalates the growth of cataract in the eyes, causes fatigue in others (I am luckier, for my energy levels are back to that of a 15-year-old since 25 years ago), causes headaches in others and so forth and so on.

So as they administer prednisone, they also administer a whole host of other Big Pharma medications to counteract the effect of the steroid. The point is, they are all still Big Pharma medications and while there are benefits with Big Pharma medications, there are many concerns as well.

There is also the controversial issue of the realisation of super-normal profits by the Big Pharma that is why for the longest time, those in the know about the medical benefits of organic medical cannabis, were literally hounded throughout the world and allegedly mysteriously murdered.

A friend of the family who never shared his condition until my diagnosis came up, was diagnosed with pulmonary sarcoidosis, six years ago. He was luckier to have had a path-finding pulmonologist with the sensibility to refer him to a holistic doctor who advised him to start taking a few drops of medical cannabis oil every evening before retiring to bed. Inside one year, obviously together with a recommended diet of organic greens and minimal fats and starch, not only did his pulmonary sarcoidosis go into remission, he lost weight and has maintained it and he has never felt healthier.

Medical cannabis oil, which should not be bought from any Tendai, Chiedza or Maita, has been known to heal many ailments that Big Pharma medications have been unable to heal. These include, but not necessarily restricted to the following: depression, diabetes, endocrine disorders, epilepsy and seizures, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, heart disease, migraine, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney disease, liver disease, metabolic syndrome, chronic pain, osteoporosis/bone health, mood disorders, rheumatism, sickle cell anaemia, spinal cord injury, autism, bipolar, cancer, digestive issues, multiple sclerosis, obesity, neuro-degeneration, stroke, mad cow disease, Parkinson’s disease, ADD and ADHD, etc.

We remain mindful that when fewer people are healthy, Big Pharma and whole medical value chain cashes in on all of us. Look at the state of our health system in Zimbabwe and who stands to benefit from the continued shambolic chaos.

Three pros of growing organic cannabis

l Improved yields

Seshata writing for Sensi Seeds BV on January 29 2015 advised: “Many small-scale growers who intend to smoke their harvest themselves already grow organic cannabis; the same can be said for most medical growers in the US, both caregivers and dispensaries. However, commercial growers for the recreational market often don’t grow organically, due to various outdated misconceptions.” She continues: “One of the primary concerns of commercial growers is the possibility of reduced yield when growing organically. However, this is not necessarily the case — and, in fact, if all conditions are optimum, (one) may be able to achieve higher yields than if using conventional methods.” One major new innovation in organic growing is the development of “super-soil” — a growing medium that has been painstakingly tweaked in order to contain exactly what cannabis needs to grow in abundance, without the need for fertiliser. With this method, you can give your plants nothing but water and achieve incredible results.

Apparently there is an abundance of prepared mixes that can be sourced from other parts of the world, including South Africa. Better still, this is a new business opportunity to start preparing these commercial mixes locally without cutting corners. Generally speaking, Zimbabweans tend to want to make a fast buck and cut corners but done properly following laid-down rules, these can be prepared and be commercially available locally for potential growers to buy or learn from in order to develop their “super soils”. Government might need regulation in these areas and testing centres.

Seshata further recommends preparing this “super-soil” from home using “organic potting soil mixed with worm castings, blood meal, bone meal, guano, and various other additives. Preparing your own means you can develop the precise mix for your preferred strain.” That way, you can expect higher yields of an organic kind.

l Lighter environmental impact

Zimbabwe has the ultimate best weather for growing organic cannabis outdoors. Seshata confirms this by submitting that, “For ultimate green credentials, organic outdoor growing is the clear winner, but if this is not a viable option for you, at the very least care can be taken to minimise overall environmental impact indoors…Of course, the least environmentally-impacting way to grow cannabis is to grow outdoors in natural sunlight, as the single greatest environmental impact of cannabis growing is electricity consumption when growing indoors.”

According to, “A 2011 peer-reviewed scientific report by Berkley scientist, Evan Mills, stated that legal indoor marijuana growing accounted for 1% of the electricity used in the US. This is $6 billion of electricity, and 15 million tons of CO2, which is the emission from 3 million cars. Indoor projects can be a huge financial drain for the individual, and they are also bad news for the environment.”

Zimbabwe does not have enough electricity for domestic and industrial use and the use of greenhouses for cannabis cultivation ought to be discouraged.

l Better quality in terms of flavour, aroma and medicinal qualities

There is empirical evidence that organic cannabis farmers who either growing on a small scale or commercially on a larger scale report superior yields in terms of medicinal effect and potency as a result of the careful, deliberate and complex constitution of the nutrient mixes used.

Three cons of growing cannabis in any shape or form

l Your church and fellow worshippers will condemn you

Zimbabwe is predominantly a Christian nation and you will no doubt be judged and condemned. There is still fired-up public debates globally and particularly in Zimbabwe on the acceptability of cannabis use, and being a grower and never mind a user, even of organic medical cannabis oil means taking the road less travelled.

Zimbabweans used to be a reading nation who took pride in basing their discussions and thinking processes on fact. Nowadays thought processes tend to be informed by those with access to the podium, pulpit, holding a microphone and social media. Generally speaking, ordinary Zimbabweans are no longer in a space where they conduct their own comprehensive research and make informed decisions based on that.

l It is not for those seeking a quick buck

Growing organic cannabis to be harvested and processed for its medical benefits is a long-term investment. Those seeking low turnaround times to make easy money are advised to stay away from this business. From planting to maturity of the plant can take up to six months. If one is going to do it properly, proper organic cannabis growing requires intensive “baby-sitting” and resources that are needed for that long. This is costly business to have money tied up in a crop, in a country like Zimbabwe whose current cashflow fluidity is virtually non-existent.

l It is not a business opportunity, unless there is clarity on your distinctive competence

Zimbabwe has legalised the commercial growth of cannabis late. This late entry into the market means that those countries that were first to market have rendered the market stiff with competition and many markets are now flooded with all varieties of the product. The best way forward as a grower is to go organic for medical use.

Cannabis prices have been dropping in the last few years. Many new growers, both for recreational and commercial use, have entered the industry and driven up the market supply, leading to the plummeting of prices depending on where you are in the world. It is reported in that in 2016, wholesale prices fell 50%.

The grower is only one player in the supply chain and one has to decide whether or not they are going to bear the risk of cropping or rather enter into the extraction market for the medicinal properties of the cannabis. This also requires monitoring of the growers to ensure that there are no shortcuts. That said, even if the grower has everything lined up perfectly, their success is going to depend on other people who might be or not necessarily dependable.

So before the issuing of licences, government is well-advised to do comprehensive work in this area. Things on the ground are not necessarily as easy as they seem.

l Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto is an entrepreneur and a regional enterprise development consultant. Her experience spans a period of over 25 years. She can be contacted at