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Planet Africa – Out of Touch with its Own Realities

James Maposa

By Cannabiz Africa and Cannabis Researcher James Maposa


Ninety percent of cannabis produced in Africa is used for recreational purposes. So why doesn’t Africa embrace this reality and develop appropriate policies to capitalize on this cold hard fact?  

That’s a question posed by leading analyst James Maposa, who says cannabis policy formulation is part of a bigger problem facing African governments: policymakers are at odds with practical realities. In short, they just don’t get it!


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Mind the Gap – between government and reality

Maposa, publisher of Birguid’s 2020 Southern African Cannabis Industry Survey, says there’s an alarming gap between policy formulation and on-the-ground reality. And the emerging African cannabis boom is a prime example of how things are going wrong. Read Birguid’s July 2021 Cannabis Industry Report in Southern Africa here.

Maposa says cannabis has the potential to help rebuild African economies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but that African policymakers are selling the continent short by refusing to confront reality.  


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Africa must make friends with its realities


The reality is that most cannabis currently produced in Africa is intended to get the user high. It is for the international and domestic recreational markets, which are huge – and largely illegal. But the rules of the global marijuana game are changing fast. 

Legalization is sweeping through the world at a profound rate, with Israel, Mexico, Luxembourg, South Africa and several key US states set to allow non-medicinal use of marijuana during the course of 2021. Africa is not awake to the opportunities offered by the recreational market, although high THC strains are being licensed for medical cultivation.


Why doesn’t Africa become the world leader in producing recreational cannabis?

Africa has got it half right by recognizing cannabis’s export opportunities and allowing controlled cultivation.  But it’s not listening to the market, which is saying loud and clear, that there is already a huge demand for illegal African recreational cannabis. And it’s not going to go away.  Never.

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Why are policymakers blinded to this fact? Why don’t they recognize that Africans are among the highest consumers of recreational cannabis in the world, have a centuries old agricultural tradition, have internationally-recognized cannabis brands – and that marijuana could bring innumerable health benefits to its citizens by integrating CBD into public health?  

Instead none of these realities are confronted by the eight African countries that have legalized cannabis cultivation for export.  Instead they are developing cannabis policies that financially benefit international corporates and their own treasuries with limited benefit to Africans at large.


Africa: creating obstacles where there should be none

So before the cannabis boom has even got out of the starting blocks, African leaders are putting up obstacles that will prevent it from playing any serious role in rebuilding the continent’s post-Covid economies.

Writing in Business Day Maposa makes the point

“Building an inclusive economy requires of policymakers and citizens to face reality”. This is an excerpt of a piece he wrote for Business Day.


Reality is another story

“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. 


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In addition, it remains extremely difficult to obtain a licence to operate, with copious amounts of red tape and policy misunderstanding across the departments that have the authority to issue them, and exorbitant fees of up to $35,000 in some countries. This has the effect of excluding most of the population of African countries who might otherwise have benefited from growing cannabis for export — existing farmers.

Surely a better approach should be considered that understands growers’ challenges by converting them to legal growers of cannabis? In addition, lessons can be learnt from countries such as the Netherlands on how to legalise recreational cannabis in a manner that benefits both state and citizen, cordoning off the illegal cannabis industry and its associated risks. 

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