The African countries with cannabis-friendly legislation

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If you look at the map showing the legality of cannabis by country, the African continent doesn’t stand out as particularly green. It doesn’t mean, however, that this crop is unknown here or not widely used.

In 2019, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that in West Africa, at least one metric – the past-12-months use – was more than three times higher than in the global population.

Historically, Africa has been the major route for the spread of cannabis from China via India to South America and then to the United States. However, the US which was introduced to the medicinal and recreational use of the substance relatively late (but was among the first to enforce prohibition) now has one of the most liberal cannabis policies in the world – with 18 states allowing adult use of marijuana. Africa, on the other hand, keeps a much stricter stance.

The repeal of prohibition is touted by its advocates as a way to restore social justice and reduce harm but also offers significant economic incentives. A report by Prohibition Partners estimated that the total market for cannabis in Africa could be worth $7.1b by 2023 if only the substance were legalized in every country on the continent.

This largely remains a missed opportunity as most African nations continue with prohibition although many have a bustling black market. In 2018, UNODC identified Ghana as the main trafficking and origin point for cannabis along with a couple of neighboring countries. In other nations, the cultivation of cannabis is also widespread as farmers grow the crop from landrace genetics or imported autoflower seeds.

So far, only South Africa has decriminalized adult use of the substance. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that it is legal to consume cannabis in the privacy of your own home. The sale and purchase remain illegal, but you can ask your physician to prescribe cannabis for any medical condition you might have. If your doctor believes that you can benefit from cannabis, she can write a prescription.

The plant grows exceptionally well in the country, especially in the so-called ‘dagga region’ and some of the endemic South-African varieties, such as Durban Poison, are famous and sought-after commercial seed lines.

There are a few other African nations that have moved toward the legalization of medical use.

Malawi, the home of the legendary Malawi Gold strain, allows the cultivation of both hemp and psychoactive medical cannabis. The country also attracts cannabis tourists who come here on holidays to enjoy, albeit illegally, the unique local weed varieties. The government’s efforts to spur the cultivation of medical marijuana have yet to lead to a breakthrough, and last year, the Ministry of Agriculture asked the ex-boxer and cannabis entrepreneur Mike Tyson to be an ambassador for Malawi’s new-fangled medical marijuana industry.

In Rwanda, medical cannabis was legalized in 2021, and the government dedicated 134 hectares to cannabis production. There are similar developments in Zambia where exports and medical use of the substance have been legal since 2019. Until recently, however, no licenses for cultivation and production have been issued, but in February, the Zambia National Service (ZNS) announced that they had been given about 20,000 hectares of land and plan to establish three cannabis plantations there.

Yet another African country that passed a law allowing the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes is Zimbabwe. The country’s approach, however, has been severely criticized as the government proposed exorbitant license fees – as much as $50,000 – which excluded virtually every local farmer. This led to negotiations with some Canadian producers who expressed an interest in growing marijuana in Zimbabwe. And recently, the waning global demand for tobacco, which is the country’s main exports article, renewed the talks of the need for local farmers to switch from tobacco to a more promising and lucrative crop.

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