South Africa should consider using Mexico as a template for legalization; creating a local market will create jobs, stimulate the economy and establish identifiable price points that will provide entrepreneurs a framework to develop products.
These are some of the views Akanda’s new CEO, Tej Virk, (40) shared in an exclusive interview with Cannabiz Africa. Virk, who’s in charge of merging Halo Collective’s international assets, Lesotho’s Bophelo Bioscience and Wellness with the UK distribution network of Canmart, says southern Africa is “California-Plus” in terms of ideal cultivation conditions for C sativa. It is planned for the these assets to fall under the newly formed Akanda Corp.
Virk has a strong CV with a background in merchant banking and pharmaceutical management; most recently he was European President for Latin American multinational, Khiron Life Sciences, overseeing operations across the UK and Germany. He will be working closely with Louisa Mojela, Halo Collective chairperson and Bophelo founder in leveraging high-quality medical cannabis from the Lesotho highlands into an international distribution network. Mojela has strong views on cannabis as a mechanism for community upliftment and 10% of the Lesotho operation’s profit will be ploughed back into local communities.
Akanda’s Lesotho grow op
This fits comfortably with Virk’s European vision which is to gain market share by offering ethically-sourced, environmentally-friendly, super-compliant product. These are the foundations on which the Akanda brand will be built in its foray into the European cannabis market, which will be worth US$479.5 million by the end of this year – and is on track to grow by almost 70% year on year. Virk, who was a founding member of Project Twenty21, the UK’s largest medical cannabis study, says Lesotho’s ability to supply premium grade medical cannabis at substantially lower cost than European rivals will be a game changer for the sector as legalisation continues at pace.
Harvesting high quality medical cannabis for export
Bophelo is the anchor tenant in Lesotho’s new Mafeteng Special Economic Zone, has 200 ha of licenced growing space and has ambitions of being one of the world’s largest cultivation facility once fully-developed. Bophelo’s trials have identified numerous cannabis strains that are suitable for cultivation in the Mountain Kingdom, but Virk says Akanda will focus on a hand full of them for initial commercialization. He said Akanda was exploring a co-branding model with other cannabis brands, but that a lot of work still needed to be done. His priority is to ensure GACP certification for the two main products Akanda will produce in Lesotho – dried flower for inhalation to combat pain, anxiety and depression, and oils to achieve the same outcomes, but with a slower release.
Virk said in an interview from his London home, that because several other countries have already gone down the road of legalizing adult-use marijuana, South Africa would not have to re-invent the proverbial wheel. He said the shift from the black market to the mainstream has been occurring successfully in Canada and the US, but the better template, he said, would be the Mexican model.
Tej Virk, CEO of Akanda
He said legalizing and regulating the sale of cannabis in South Africa would:
- Bring illegal farmers into the mainstream
- Provide jobs and revenue for the government
- Open up new economic opportunities for entrepreneurs
- Create a market where price points could be clarified
“We’re certainly interested in South Africa. It’s not currently a main priority, but we’re looking at that space. The market is certainly there. When I was in Johannesburg recently, I went on three morning jogs, and on each one of them I smelled cannabis – in fact twice on one run’ he jokes.