Cannabis Legalization Efforts Are Gaining Ground in Africa
Lesotho is the first African country to legally license cannabis cultivation and sales.
Published on October 9, 2017

Africa has been lagging behind Western nations with respect to cannabis legalization and regulation, but that may be all about to change. The landlocked country of Lesotho has already granted the continent's first legal cannabis license, and legalization efforts are picking up steam in a number of other countries.

Cannabis is a popular crop in Africa, despite being prohibited across the continent. A UN survey estimated that over 10,000 tons of cannabis are grown on the continent every year. A good portion of this cannabis is grown in the poverty-stricken country of Lesotho and illegally exported to neighboring South Africa, where it is known as “dagga.” As a result, Lesotho's government has decided to turn this thriving black market to its advantage, and has offered the first African license for cannabis cultivation and sales to Verve Dynamics, a South African alternative medicine company.

South Africans illegally cultivate around 2,500 tons of dagga every year, in addition to importing it from Lesotho. Earlier this year, the Dagga Party won a landmark ruling that found the country's cannabis prohibition laws unconstitutional. This ruling prohibits South African law enforcement from arresting anyone for growing or consuming cannabis in their own home, but does not actually legalize cannabis use. Government officials have also published guidelines for medical marijuana use, but want to conduct further research on potential health risks before going ahead with full medical legalization.

Cannabis is also a major black market industry in Morocco. The country is the second-largest producer of hashish in the world, employing over 800,000 people and bringing in $10 billion a year in sales. In 2014, an opposition party in the country's parliament proposed a bill to legalize medical and industrial cannabis production, which unfortunately failed. In Malawi, birthplace of the popular “Malawi Gold” strain, the government has begun cultivating hemp for industrial purposes on a trial basis. Malawi's Rastafarian minority are now pushing for marijuana legalization as a logical next step for the country.

In Swaziland, government officials have appointed a committee to explore the risks and benefits of recreational legalization. Numerous public officials have recommended legalization as a boost to the country's struggling economy, but previous attempts to push for legalization in the country have been unsuccessful. Another pro-legalization effort is gaining ground in Ghana, where cannabis use is popular and generally tolerated. Some government officials have backed the legalization effort, while others have partnered with religious groups to advocate for prohibition to continue.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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