Can cannabis give Africa’s economies a buzz?

In recent years, the amount of tobacco loaded at Beira has been in decline as smoking becomes less popular in much of the world, and those desiring a nicotine hit increasingly switch to vaping. So it’s not surprising that Malawi’s President, Lazarus Chakwera, has been urging his nation’s farmers to abandon tobacco in favor of other crops. What’s more surprising is one of Chewkra’s leading alternatives: cannabis.

“Clearly, we need to diversify and grow other crops like cannabis, which was legalized last year for industrial and medicinal use,” he said in a speech last month. Malawi has also recently altered its laws to allow for investment in cannabis cultivation and has issued licenses to 35 companies allowing them to grow the plant.

Malawi is not the only African country to see potential gold in ganja, which has increasingly been legalized or, at least, decriminalized in parts of the U.S., Canada, and Europe, with sales booming, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, South Africa, and Ghana are among the African countries that have also taken steps to encourage cannabis farming as a legal cash crop. A 2019 report from Prohibition Partners, a research and consulting firm specializing in the legal cannabis industry, estimated that Africa’s cannabis business could be worth as much as $7.1 billion by 2023.

Meanwhile, international pot companies are flocking to the continent in the hopes of cashing in. Canadian cannabis suppliers EXMceuticals, Canopy Growth, the Supreme Cannabis Company, and Aphria (which merged with fellow Canadian cannabis firm Tilray), as well as Israel-based Together Pharmaceuticals and the U.K.’s Medi Kingdom are among the companies that have invested in cannabis cultivation in various parts of Africa in the past five years.

So will pot become, as Kaye suggests, a savior of Africa’s economies? A lot of international experts have their doubts. For one thing, while in many parts of Africa, farmers have traditionally grown cannabis for recreational or religious use and have sometimes made money through the illegal drug trade, the varieties of pot plants these small-time producers have cultivated are not the type of cannabis being authorized for large-scale cultivation, according to Chris Duvall, a professor of geography and environmental science at the University of New Mexico who has researched the history of African cannabis farming.

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