Zambia joins club of African countries permitting cannabis cultivation

By allowing cannabis cultivation, Zambia becomes the fourth country in the region to liberalize the industry, attracted by its promising economic prospects. So, is this new « green gold » a future lever for growth or a mirror to the larks?

In the wake of North American countries, pioneers in this field, the legalization of cannabis is now well underway in Africa. The latest step forward to date was the Zambian government’s « agreement in principle […] for the cultivation, processing and export of cannabis for economic and medicinal purposes » on Monday 16 December. Zambia thus becomes the fourth country in southern Africa, after Lesotho, Zimbabwe and South Africa, to relax its legislation in favour of cannabis and further confirms its role as a regional driving force in the liberalisation of this market. In detail, supervision of the industry will be entrusted to the Zambia National Service, a civil defence and community service organisation attached to the Zambian military. Government spokeswoman Dora Siliya also indicated that the Ministry of Health will soon specify the conditions for issuing the necessary licences. In any case, the decision reflects a complete reversal by the authorities on the issue: until now, the cultivation and possession of this psychotropic drug were strictly prohibited, and even punishable by prison sentences.

Financial manna

It is true that the financial stakes involved in this green gold are enough to encourage « flexibility ». According to projections by the specialist research firms Arcview and BDS Analytics, the global cannabis market could increase two and a half times by 2022 to reach $32 billion per year. In Africa alone, the think tank Prohibition Partners estimates that the medical use of the plant could represent a market of $800 million by 2023, when recreational cannabis would generate a turnover of $6.3 billion.

The estimated size of the African cannabis market, all segments combined (therapeutic and recreational), by 2023 (data in billions of dollars).

As for Peter Sinkamba, the president of the Zambian Green Party (opposition), who advocates the export of cannabis since 2013, he estimates that the decision to legalize its cultivation could bring in up to… 36 billion dollars a year, or one and a half times the national GDP. No wonder that with such a more or less credible outlook, Zambia has also been pushing for greater liberalization of the industry. An inclination that has been further reinforced by the country’s gloomy economic situation. In fact, with an external debt of more than USD 11 billion, growth forecasts for 2019 revised downwards (2% forecast against 4% initially expected) and the spectre of a crisis, the Zambian authorities are doing everything they can to seek new sources of growth, whatever they may be. It remains to be seen whether the potential windfall from cannabis will prove beneficial to all. For at 250,000 dollars a licence, the cultivation of green gold will not be within everyone’s reach, says the Lusaka Times, the country’s leading daily, for whom « the decision to legalize the cannabis industry is an invitation to the big foreign and local cartels to get rich on a massive scale at the expense of Zambians ». Excessive rhetoric or salutary warning? Time will tell.

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