A Botswana company is fighting to retain a license to cultivate hemp amidst a legal showdown involving different government departments and the long shadow of political intrigue. And it would appear that Fresh Standard Farms attempt to become Botswana’s first legal hemp producer is back on the cards and it could sue for a billion pula’s damages.
This is after Botswana’s Attorney General (AG) went to court to prevent Fresh Standard Farms (Pty) Ltd from growing hemp even though it was granted an exemption to do so on in 2018 by the then Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security. The Judge threw the matter out of court.
De Beer claims government acting against itself
Botswana online news service MmegiOnline (reported on 7 May 2021 that Gaborone High Court Judge, Chris Gabanagae dismissed the AG’s efforts to use technicalities to try and end a messy legal tussle over a single hemp license that pits Botswana’s police against the department of agriculture with one Benny de Beer being squeezed in the middle.
Fresh Standard director Barend Daniel (Benny) de Beer says in court papers that he was granted an “exemption” in October 2018 by the Agriculture Department, which allowed him to grow medical and industrial hemp. He said that exemption was withdrawn on 22 May 2019 without allowing him to appeal for a review. Behind his review application is believed to be a billion pula damages claim against the Gaberone government.
Former Agricuture Minister Ralotsia: dropped from cabinet for over-enthusiasm for hemp farming
There’s a political twist to the story as the former Agriculture Minister, Patrick Ralotsia, who awarded the exemption, went into a deal with de Beer to grow the hemp on his, the Minister’s private land. De Beer said he had ordered seed valued at 90 000 Euros and an offtake agreement in place for 5 000 litres of hemp oil “a month” when everything fell apart.
Ralotsia, an ardent campaigner within government for cannabis reform, was dropped from President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s cabinet after admitting that he’d granted the exemption and that his own land was involved.
Police raid preceded exemption revoke
The police then raided the Kangwe farm and seized 30 cannabis plant. De Beer said in court papers that he was “shocked, when on or about 7 May 2019, representatives of the Narcotics Squad of the Police arrived at the farm where I had planted the crop in green house tunnels. They uprooted the plants and removed them from the farm”.
When he questioned the actions of police and claimed that he was growing legally, he was served with a letter from the Permanent Secretary for Agriculture on 29 March 2019, withdrawing the exemption.
De Beer says that this communication was illegal in that it was contrary to the empowering statute, and unreasonable because the decision was made without affording him any form of hearing despite the serious effect that the decision had on his business.
De Beer wants a review of the decision to rescind his permit and the May High Court ruling will allow him to go ahead. He argued in court papers that he had he spent millions of Pula in establishing its business after receiving an exemption to grow, process and produce products from cannabis sativa and hemp dominant strands for medical and industrial purposes in the country.
Judge: Case is of national importance
According to MmegiOnline, Judge Gabanagae agreed, saying de Beer’s case should be aired as it was important for all parties views to be aired: “The case is of national importance in that it is the first case of its kind in Botswana involving the cultivation and processing of cannabis sativa and industrial hemp.”
For de Beer it’s back to the legal battleground as he prepares for the next stage of legal argument almost three years after he received official blessing to commercially cultivate and process hemp.