Much like Colombian cannabis seeping through Venezuela, and California black market weed going to states like Maine and even countries like Thailand, the African continent is seeing the same illicit cannabis market channels sprout up overnight.
Mozambique is an unusual case in Southern Africa, given its stringent prohibition of medicinal and recreational cannabis. Despite the country's strict ban, affluent Mozambicans such as doctors have been informally and lucratively importing high-end processed cannabis products from neighbouring South Africa.
According to Mozambican social scientist Armando Bana, the current situation results in a two-tier cannabis scenario. On the one hand, the affluent have easy access to high-quality processed cannabis through prescriptions or orders. On the other hand, people with low incomes may face imprisonment for simply possessing a gram of raw cannabis.
Even though Mozambique has banned all forms of cannabis use and possession, the plant is widely cultivated by millions of impoverished Mozambicans. There is a vast expanse of cannabis cultivation in the fertile eastern coastal and mountainous western regions. According to social scientist Armando, rural cannabis cultivators rely on small harvests to earn money for necessities such as food, healthcare, and education. These farmers typically evade law enforcement scrutiny by offering bribes.
However, according to Mozambique social scientist Armando Bana, individuals caught using medical cannabis commercially or exporting large quantities of the crop across international borders can face imprisonment of up to seven years. Despite this, Armando's doctor acquaintances claim that there is significant demand for high-end medical cannabis imports, such as lotions, edibles, and oils. This high-end cannabis is used for recreational and healthcare purposes among Maputo's burgeoning middle class.
Wealthy Mozambicans satisfy their demand for high-quality cannabis products through their neighbour to the southwest, South Africa. Not only is South Africa Africa's most industrialized nation, but it also boasts the continent's largest processed cannabis industry. South Africa has invested heavily in both the cultivation and processing of cannabis, with its domestic cannabis industry projected to reach ZAR 406 billion (equivalent to $22 billion) by 2026.
Gilberto, a supplier of high-end chocolates, cannabis oils, and lotions in Maputo, Mozambique's capital, reveals that South Africa is the source of their imported finished cannabis products for doctor dispensaries, pharmacies, and chocolate shops. However, all of these transactions occur covertly. Gilberto operates as an "importer," procuring these products from South Africa and distributing them to doctor's offices, affluent pharmacies, and gift shops in Maputo.
Gilberto, who prefers not to disclose his last name to protect his identity, reveals that despite the risks involved, the potential profits make it all worthwhile. He says a 500ml cannabidiol product used to alleviate back pain can be obtained for $4 in South Africa, just over the border. However, he sells the same product to his network of doctors secretly in Mozambique for almost $9, which results in significant profits.
The fact that high-end cannabis products in Mozambique have become a symbol of social status among the affluent middle class is an open secret. This class has emerged due to a gas boom amidst widespread poverty in the country. Notably, these cannabis products are sought after for medicinal reasons and as status symbols.
Dilone Feza, the founder of Maputo Corruption Watch Forum, a local civic organization in Mozambique's capital, made some interesting comments. She reported that in affluent private parties held in Maputo City, a bar of cannabis chocolate or perfumed soap is regarded as a superior gift capable of elevating the status of certain social classes. Moreover, to facilitate the movement of processed cannabis across the country's borders, border guards are bribed to turn a blind eye to such activities.
According to Radum Ng'lane, spokesperson for the cargo inspection division of SENAME, the border management agency in Mozambique, any cannabis products that are discovered crossing the country's borders are not tolerated as it is a prohibited substance. He further stated that any border officer who accepts payment to allow the entry of cannabis products into Mozambique is subjected to strict and prompt disciplinary action.
Gilberto, the informal cannabis importer in Maputo, explains that the upper class in Mozambique finds it easier to access expensive processed cannabis products, such as scented soaps, cannabidiol oils, and chocolates. This is because the buyers who frequent doctors' dispensaries for such products are high-status individuals, including lawmakers and CEOs. Gilberto even knows of a minister who relies on CBD to alleviate a persistent migraine headache.
The situation is ironic, as ministers publicly denounce any form of cannabis possession, no matter how insignificant. However, in private, they engage in the exchange of cannabis chocolate at their exclusive residence parties, creating a kind of double standard.
According to Feza, the situation is highly unjust because the wealthy in Mozambique have easy access to high-quality medical cannabis products, while the poor do not. This is unfortunate because recent research in healthcare has shown that medical cannabis can effectively manage severe conditions such as arthritis and muscular pain.
Feza, the anti-corruption activist, advocates for legalizing medical cannabis in Mozambique, arguing that it is unfair that only the affluent can quickly obtain high-end medical cannabis products while people with low incomes cannot. Feza believes that legalizing medical cannabis would allow poor Mozambican patients to access cannabis oil for conditions such as foot pain at public clinics with a doctor's prescription. Additionally, legalizing cannabis would decrease prices, increase tax revenue, and eliminate the need for smugglers.
The cannabis industry in Mozambique is intricate and frequently conflicting. Even though cannabis usage and possession are officially prohibited in the nation, it is commonly grown by millions of underprivileged residents who rely on meagre harvests to survive. In the meantime, despite the dangers of smuggling them across the border, the wealthy and powerful have easy access to high-end medicinal cannabis products smuggled from neighbouring South Africa.
The scenario has generated calls for legalization to minimize illicit smugglers' influence and provide a more equitable distribution of cannabis goods. Ultimately, Mozambique's cannabis debate underscores the difficulties in balancing tradition, public health, and social justice in a rapidly changing world.