Cannabis in Africa: Zimbabwe Legalizes Medical Marijuana

Cannabis in Africa is one of the most-watched markets in one of the fastest-growing – and youngest – populations on the planet. Zimbabwe recently took a step ahead of most countries on the continent, legalizing the use of hemp-based products for medicines given to the country’s medical patients.

Zimbabwe officials – specifically, the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe – have already invited cannabis growers, manufacturers, importers, exporters and retail pharmacists to apply for licenses.

The Zimbabwe government expects cannabis sales to generate $1.25 billion a year in the country of about 15 million people. Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube told Bloomberg that cannabis has “immense potential” to generate export profits and tax revenue. Zimbabwe wants to shift to cannabis as it moves away from tobacco.

The Emerging African Market

Asia gets most of the attention as a growing force in global politics and economics – as well as a potentially huge market for legalized cannabis –  but long-overlooked Africa is now considered the continent that will rise in power in the coming century. Foreign Policy refers to China and India holding a great position of power as  “less a revolution than a restoration” given that both countries have had some of the most sophisticated civilizations in history over the past 2,000 years.

Africa is where the real revolution is happening. The continent now has a population of more than 1.4 billion, a tenfold increase over the past century. Experts project the continent’s population will reach at least 2.2 billion by 2050, accounting for about 25 percent of the world’s population.

They are also young. The median age of people in Africa is 19.7.

Legalization of Cannabis in Africa

Despite the young population, cannabis legalization has not spread quickly across the 54 countries in Africa. South Africa has legalized growing cannabis plants for personal use, but has not set up a legal, government-regulated market.

In addition to Zimbabwe, other countries have legalized cannabis for medical or scientific use. They include  Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Eswatini, Rwanda and Morocco. However, the vast majority of countries in Africa make cannabis possession and use illegal.

However, change is happening in Africa and cannabis entrepreneurs do well to keep a close eye on the situation. Quartz Africa reports that an increasing number of government officials in multiple countries are leaving behind the “colonial era and morality laws” that once surrounded cannabis use across the continent. In the past, those who possessed or cultivated cannabis had to choose between going underground with their operation or facing jail time.

Business leaders also are pushing for the growing continent to enter the global market. Sudhir Ruparelia, considered Uganda’s richest businessman, wrote a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that made the case that legalizing medical marijuana could transform the country.

He wrote that it is a “market reality that the global medical marijuana market, estimated to reach between $40 billion and $45 billion by 2025, is not unlimited. The early birds will certainly catch the most and possibly the biggest worms and…will hold onto this advantage for many years to come.”

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