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Cry the Beloved Continent: Crack the Colonial Cannabis Mindset – World Doesn’t Want Us to Heal It with CBD, Everybody Just Wants to Get Stoned On Our Weed

Africa provides a grateful world with a lot of its recreational cannabis. This is worth reflecting on 420 Day. According to leading cannabis consultancy Prohibition Partners, Africa exports an estimated 38 000 tons of illegal weed a year. 

None of that frankly is for strictly medicinal purposes and most of the billions of dollars of revenue from the supply chain end up in criminal hands with African farmers at the bottom end of the value proposition.

At best in 2121 the continent will legally export less than 5 tons of medical cannabis.  That’s less than 0,1% of recreational cannabis exports.  Domestic cannabis consumption in most of Africa is illegal and consumers are persecuted for what is essentially a victimless crime. Add into the mix that we Africans consume more cannabis than any other continent, with over 13% of the population being active consumers.  And for the most part, those consumers are persecuted by the law.

So what kind of cannabis strategy does Africa have?  The eight countries that have legalized cannabis cultivation for export are primarily looking at the opportunities around hemp. Understandably so, as this is a viable alternative to the tobacco-dependent economies of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

Yet, with the possible exception of South Africa, and possibly Lesotho no other African country that has legalized cannabis cultivation has indigenous landraces anywhere in their strategies.

The current exclusively dual focus in Africa is either on low-cost mass hemp-biomass or capital-intensive , high-value medicinal cannabis. There is an alarming gap in African policy cannabis framework where recreational cannabis is not addressed.

Africa is a world leader in low-cost recreational cannabis consumption. The main obstacle in realizing the value of this for our sovereign fiscuses and farmers is the post-colonial mind-set of most African governments. African governments are guilty to cravenly bowing to the United States-led ‘War on Drugs’ to the detriment of the health of their own people and their own economies.

Africa has the potential to rewrite the international rules on recreational cannabis and impact legislative frameworks around the world, were we to embark on an aggressive campaign to make ourselves market leaders in the production of high-quality adult-use cannabis.

Researcher James Maphosa says the problem with African leadership is that decisions are still based on ideology rather than reality.

 

Read about CBD in Southern Africa

 

“In Southern Africa, legalisation of cannabis has taken centre stage lately, with countries such as Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia, SA and Zimbabwe and Lesotho legalising the cultivation and export of cannabis for medical purposes. Some have done so on the premise that cannabis is the new “green gold” that will enable their countries to increase export earnings and regain some of the revenue lost through declining export sales of agricultural commodities such as tobacco.

But reality tells another story. Most of the cannabis grown on the continent is consumed recreationally, with close to 90% traded on the illicit market, the main beneficiaries being the middlemen (based on risk). Cultivators and processors of the product derive the least value from the industry.”

 

Prohibition Partners Report on Cannabis in Africa (2019)

 

Although widely grown across the continent (indeed Africa is estimated to produce at least 38,000 tonnes of cannabis per year) cannabis is illegal in most African countries. High unemployment rates and a global decline in demand for tobacco crops has hit these economies hard. However, the region has a wealth of experience in cannabis cultivation; despite its illegality, many agricultural workers have turned to cannabis farming as the only way to earn enough money to provide for the basic needs of their families. 

International demand offers a strong opportunity to unlock the potential value of Africa cannabis, which could be worth up to $7.1 billion annually by 2023 – the bulk of which will come from the production sector.

With affordable land, low-cost labour and an experienced agricultural workforce, Africa offers enormous opportunity to local start-ups and foreign companies looking to expand. However, an inadequate healthcare system means that even if medicinal cannabis were to be legalised across the continent, access to products  would be limited.

 

Uncertainty over access to African cannabis 

Companies and entrepreneurs seeking to invest in the cannabis industry in Africa face other structural hurdles. The region has an extremely high rate of HIV/AIDS (more than one-fifth of all adults are estimated to suffer from the immune deficiency condition). Although there is evidence to suggest medical cannabis can support in the treatment of the virus, cannabis may not present itself as a priority treatment.

In addition, a heavy reliance on donor-supported healthcare funding will likely limit patient access to cannabis in the short-term. For instance, UNICEF reports that Malawi’s health sector is 80% funded by foreign donors, which may choose to prioritise vaccinations and other preventative treatments before shifting their attention to medical cannabis supplies.

Should legislation change, NGOs, charities and other donors who provide a significant proportion of the region’s healthcare supplies will be an essential partner in providing access to legal medicinal cannabis products due to the inaccessibility of healthcare services.

 

High cannabis consumption rates

Supply will remain an issue in the short-term but demand in the region is sky-rocketing. Annual prevalence rates of cannabis use in Africa (13.2%) cement the region as having one of the highest consumption rates around the world. In fact, Africa is home to five of the world’s top 30 countries for cannabis prevalence among adult populations with Nigeria (no.3), Zambia (no.10), Madagascar (no.14), Egypt (no.25) and Sierra Leone (no.30) all making the leaderboard.

With over 76 million black market cannabis users, Africa has a huge potential consumer base, but prices are expected to remain low throughout the region. 

 

Prioritising local needs

Cannabis remains an attractive proposition for international companies seeking to expand their footprint in a region where land and labour is low-cost. Because of the poor economic

conditions faced by many African countries, any legalisation of cannabis in the region will have a duty to safeguard local interests. In this respect, Zimbabwe could become a regional blueprint as licence applications can only come from those who can prove citizenship or residency. 

 

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