The idea of legalizing cannabis in Africa, was to many an inconcievable one 10 years ago. The economic difficulties that came with with the Covid-19 pandemic has increased demand for new sources of revenue. Some African nations are now looking to cannabis.

Many Africans have been subject to the harsh colonial and morality laws regarding cannabis use. They were forced underground or jailed for their work, and many of them lost their livelihoods. This once-closed area is now open to governments as they seek more revenue sources, although not necessarily for smallholder growers and local consumption.

The continent is seeing sweeping reforms due to developments in Western markets. Legalization has been spreading quickly in the west and Africa is looking to make a profit from the multi-billion dollar sector. No less than 10 African countries have already introducing a legal framework to allow the product to be sold. Many more African countries are considering similar moves.

Although preachers and legislators believe that licensing cannabis cultivation will encourage young people to use the substance. No one wants to spend millions of dollars on weed for the poor youth living in slums.

According to Prohibition Partners (a research and consulting firm that specializes in legal cannabis industry), Africa’s legal marijuana market could be worth up to $7.1 billion by 2023. This projection was focused on South Africa, Zimbabwe and Lesotho’s legal and regulated cannabis market.

Africa’s cannabis market is opening up

Lesotho was the first country to legalize cannabis in Africa in 2017. Morocco followed suit earlier in 2021.

Morocco was the already world’s largest exporter of cannabis even prior to Morcco’s decision to allow legalize the substance. Law allows for the “medical cosmetic, industrial, and industrial use” of cannabis as well as providing a regulatory structure. The country’s illegal cannabis industry, which was emplying close to 1,000,000 people, sent $13 billion worth of cannabis to Europe every year. 

Morocco will likely wake up other African giants like Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria. This will also help to drive Africa’s legal cannabis market projections higher as more transactions become mainstreamed.

African countries have a lot to gain from technology and investment. They can improve their legal and regulatory environments and put their arable land and low-wage labor to use by introducing new regulations. The state can also create industries that process and export cannabis products. They will also be able to make revenue by taxing the sector and granting licenses to local businesses.

The African continent, particularly the countries along the Equator, has a huge opportunity to make cannabis innovation a reality. At least according to According to Isaac Imaka, director of Seven Blades, a company applying for a Ugandan cannabis license.

He says, “It’s appalling that as usual…” as he explains how countries choose not to rush in issuing regulations to direct liscense issuing.

He says that the inability to communicate with those responsible for making the decision has impeded the speed at which countries such as Uganda and Kenya could have seized the opportunity.

Arguments against cannabis use

Major efforts in Kenya to legalize cannabis have met resistance from religious and public perceptions.

Surprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic has lifted the lid on moral objections to cannabis. Janet Museveni (the first lady of Uganda) as well as several former and even current ministers have opposed legalization of cannabis, calling it “satanic”, and “destroying to the future of our children”. A report shows that Uganda has more than 2.65 million users of the substance.

Although it isn’t supported by science, cannabis has been discussed as a Covid-19 treatment. Some have promoted the product as a way of relieving some of the symptoms of the virus. The Ugandan health ministry issued a public warning to the public that cannabis was not to be used to treat the symptoms of the virus. South Africa began a trial with marijuana in June 2020 as one of six herbs that could help fight Covid-19.

A plan for the commercialization and industrialization of cannabis has been developed by the South Africa, the continents most industrialized economy. It has been hailed as a tool to create new jobs, tackle poverty and promote economic growth.

However, the country has been criticised for slow progress. Estimates suggest that the country’s domestic cannabis and related products market will be worth approximately $2 billion.

Africa is not the market most nations are aiming at

Outside of South Africa, legalization of local consumption and trade seems unlikely for most of the continent. Other African nations looking to legalize cannabis aren’t interested in developing local industries or formalizing local markets. They are instead looking to feed the hungry markets that are opening up in the America and Europe.

Lesotho’s MG Health, a licensed grower and manufacturer of high-quality cannabis extracts, has already made history two months ago when it became the first African cannabis company to be awarded the coveted EU Good Manufacturing Practices certification. The company is now able to make EU-market deals.

Multi-million-dollar deals are being made as governments shift their approach to cannabis across the continent. Goodleaf, South Africa’s leading commercial cannabis brand, merged with Highlands Investments, from Lesotho on June 3. The deal was valued at $45.2 million.

Almost 100 companies from Uganda have applied for licenses that will allow them to cultivate marijuana commercially. Entrepreneurs and enthusiasts must navigate the political and moral landscape to make a business case.

Many countries, such as Tanzania and Kenya that have large underground operations, have been reluctant to open their doors despite grassroots movements calling for it.

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