A Maltese company has been granted permission to grow and produce medicinal cannabis in Uzbekistan in the first deal of its kind for the conservative Central Asian nation.

Melabis, a cannabis and technology company with a foothold in Malta, Laos, Thailand and now Uzbekistan, has been granted 3,000 hectares of farmland typically used for growing cotton, melons and watermelons in the Sardoba district of the Sirdaryo province, Reuters reported.

The final product is expected to be mostly exported out of the country, and will contain 0.1 – 0.2% THC, meaning it will not be psychoactive and suitable for medical use. The climate of the area is said to be favourable for growing cannabis, and will require 10 times less water to grow than cotton.

Speaking to Lovin Malta, Damon Booth, Melabis founder, said it was exciting news to be the first company to change policy in a central Asian country.

“The whole region can now wake up to utilising cannabis as an economic driver,” he said. “The benefits, both economic and environmental-wise, are huge. We personally will be creating over 150 jobs as well as the green impact we will have by having a positive carbon offset, along with using a lot less water in cultivation than cotton (Uzbekistan’s main agricultural export).”

Melabis says it aims to pay Uzbeki farmers more than any other crop in the area, with investments helping the region they’ll be operating in as part of the company’s CSR.

“From a global perspective, the fact a more conservative country like Uzbekistan has changed its laws shows the rest of the world what they could also be doing. We want to bring products that consumers want at a fairer price point than they currently have to pay,” he said, ending that he can’t wait to see what 2021 could bring for global legislation.

Over the last few weeks, both the European Union and United Nations made moves to allow access to cannabis easier. Malta, once a pioneer in the sector, especially on the European front, hasn’t made much progress since legalising medicinal cannabis back in 2018.

Till today, CBD-based medicine, which is not psychoactive and available over the counter in many European countries, including the UK, is still unregulated in Malta and forces patients to resort to the grey market to access it.

This article was originally published on Lovin Malta.