Is Africa Poised For A Green Rush?
African countries are now seeing the economic value of legalizing cannabis. According to a UN survey, over 10,000 tons of the plant are already being produced in the continent each year which could translate to billions of dollars in the legal cannabis market.
Although governments in African countries still haven’t legalized cannabis, Lesotho has become a pioneer by becoming the first in the continent to grant a license to grow medical cannabis. This could signal the beginning of a more prosperous time for Africa as they embrace liberal policies.
Lesotho may be a small country in Africa, but it’s a large player in the continent’s cannabis industry. Lesotho’s health ministry recently licensed Verve Dynamics to legally grow cannabis; a company that calls itself “a vegan friendly manufacturer of highly purified botanical extracts and specialty ingredients.”
A UNESCO report says, “Cannabis is grown almost everywhere in the country,” stating that cannabis has helped improve the plague-stricken economy of Lesotho. However, most of the greens that are being pumped into the country are through illegal trades with South Africa, Lesotho’s wealthier neighbor. By awarding the first cultivation license to Verve Dynamics, the government has made a decision to make cannabis a source of legal revenue instead of criminalizing it. Since this is the first of its kind in Africa, it still remains to be seen how the locals will react to legalization but if done right it could develop into a lucrative model that the rest of the continent can follow.
In a statement, Verve Dynamics said that Lesotho’s health ministry makes the country “a pioneer on the African continent” in developing cannabis extracting technologies and refining the industry.
Cannabis has long been a cash crop for Lesotho’s farmers, who grow it to consume at home and export across the border to South Africa. Given the extreme poverty that small-scale farmers still face, they’ve turned to cannabis where just like in Swaziland, another impoverished monarchy, it’s helped put food on the tables for many families despite its illegal status.
South Africa was expected to be the first country to legalize cannabis given that a terminally ill politician pleaded parliament to let him use cannabis as a treatment for his cancer. Mario Oriani-Ambrosini passed away in 2014, almost three years before the court ruled in favor of home use of cannabis.
South Africa is one of the largest economies in the continent and continues to be a leader in producing cannabis, locally known as “dagga”. A UN report states that South Africa produces roughly 2,500 tons annually. Despite this, cannabis still isn’t completely legal in South Africa; it remains illegal to smoke, sell, or cultivate the plant. The country is seeing several battles in court to legalize cannabis, and the South African government already released recommendations for medical cannabis, which paves the way for licenses.
Malawi, a country that received international acclaim for the highly-coveted Malawi Gold strain, has also seen the potential economic benefits of legalizing chamba, the local word for cannabis. They’ve also already considered legalizing hemp. The Malawi government is already cultivating hemp on an experimental basis which is a significant development after long battles with religious leaders and drug control groups that strongly resisted loosening of the policy.
Malawi’s Rastafarian minority have long been demanding the legalization of cannabis and hemp, stating that smoking it is an important part of their culture.
A UNODC report sates that despite the fact cannabis is prohibited, it remains well tolerated and is widely consumed by Ghanaians. In fact, a former head of the Narcotics Control Board has been supportive of legalization efforts and campaigns which has recently gained traction in Ghana. The cannabis legalization campaigns recently garnered even more support as the executive director of the Ghana Standards Authority proposed that cultivation and export of cannabis could be lucrative for the country.
However, mental health authorities and government officials counterattacked. Even the Christian Council of Ghana, a highly influential organization, also crushed the idea of legalization because they think that it would “destroy the future of our young people.”
Morocco, a North African state, is well-known in the international cannabis community for being a top producer of world-class hashish. The hashish trade gives jobs to at least 800,000 people and makes around $10 billion in sales. Morocco has clearly seen how lucrative and important the trade is to both economy and employment, which has fueled campaigns for legalization.
Back in 2014, the Moroccan parliament’s opposition party proposed a bill that would have legalized cannabis for medical and commercial purposes but it didn’t pass. Instead, the movement experienced major impediments especially since their prominent advocate Ilyas El Omari resigned. Religious groups also opposed legalization.
The last monarchy on the continent might be impoverished, but is wealthy in cannabis. Experts have recommended turning to cannabis as a means of improving the economy, which prompted the national police commissioner to request for a study. Reports say that the Swazi House of Assembly already established a committee tasked with exploring legalization.
Legalizing cannabis will no doubt help the economy, but the challenge would be regulation, an area that African countries still struggle with.