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"Cannabis policy changes in Africa are welcome, but small producers are the losers"

Many African states that persecuted citizens for cannabis-related offenses for years are now promoting legal cannabis production. Over the past five years, 10 countries have passed laws to legalize production for medical and scientific purposes. These include Lesotho, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, Eswatini, Rwanda, and Morocco. South Africa has also legalized the private growing of cannabis plants by adults for their own personal consumption.

Two main factors have brought about the cannabis policy liberalization in Africa. One is the lobbying by local activists. Cannabis use is still criminalized in most African countries. But even in the most conservative ones, there are emerging debates ultimately aimed at spurring cannabis policy reforms.

The other factor is the emergence of the global legal cannabis industry, projected to grow to nearly US$200 billion by 2028. For state authorities, policy changes are aimed at opening avenues for scarce foreign exchange revenue critically needed to boost stagnating economies.

But there are still policy and practical concerns requiring attention if the cannabis sector reforms are to have a positive impact on the economy and citizens’ livelihoods. These include the need to ensure the participation of ordinary producers in the legal cannabis sector. This is because the emerging regulation frameworks seem to favor corporate businesses over smallholder farmers.

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