By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka - Zambia joined other countries in legalising the growing and cultivation of marijuana to bolster the economic surge in the Southern African state.
After years of resistance from authorities fearing abuse by various people, the country has agreed to cultivate marijuana for medicinal and economic gains through exports.
Despite over 90-years of copper mining in the 17 million populated African state, the metal contributing 70% of its Gross Domestic Product, all has been done without tapping potential in other sectors.
Zambia imports more than it exports, with the central bank’s import cover hovering around 2-4 months of import cover. There are increased imports of goods and services while raw materials leave the country and return as value added products.
Chief government spokesperson, who is also Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Dora Siliya, disclosed the turn of events and said cabinet had ratified the cultivation and sale of marijuana for commercial purposes.
Cabinet had approved in principle, to the ministerial technical committee for the cultivation, processing and exporting of cannabis for economic and medicinal purposes. The ministerial technical committee comprises Ministers of Justice, Defence, Home Affairs, Finance, National Development Planning, Commerce, Trade and Industry, Agriculture, and Health.
Cabinet directed the Ministry of Health to provide overall leadership and coordinate the issuance of licenses for the cultivation, processing and export of cannabis for medicinal purposes under the Dangerous Drugs Act.
The Ministry of Health will ensure applicable policy guidelines and procedures are followed and ensure the implementation is within the existing policy guidelines and overall legal framework in consultation with any relevant ministries and other relevant stakeholders.
The Ministry of Health is further directed to provide cabinet with a periodic update on the implementation of this cabinet decision, Siliya stated.
Peter Sinkamba, an environmental expert and leader of opposition Green Party, argued that Zambia’s panacea could be solved through regularising the cultivation and sale of marijuana, with an estimated revenue earning of about US$36 billion per annum.
“Our success in this matter will depend on how government will devise a policy on marijuana, otherwise, this is an economic windfall for Zambia if properly done,” he said.
“I know this could be a blessing or a curse, like diamonds and gold, depending on the policy direction we take.”
Data shows that Zambia destroys over 60 tonnes of marijuana each year. Secretly and culturally, the consumption of marijuana is accepted in many regions of Zambia and is believed to have religious and spiritual effects by some sections of society.
However, some Christian leaders have since condemned the decision by government, arguing it amounts to a betrayal of the country’s Christian values. The United Nations justifies the cultivation to reduce dependence on donors for aid by African states.
A UN survey shows that more than 10, 000 tonnes of cannabis is produced in Africa each year, which could be worth billions of dollars in a rapidly expanding global market for legal cannabis.
The legalisation of the marijuana ostensibly puts Zambia on the world map, joining other countries on the continent and beyond to maximise returns from the sale of cannabis.
South Africa and Zimbabwe legalised marijuana cultivation and trade for medicinal and commercial purposes in 2018, they stated in legal notices. Lesotho did it a year earlier. Uganda is formalising the law on the herb.
Several commentators have lauded Zambia for looking beyond copper mining and seeking to exploit other minerals and more ways of increasing revenue for the country, grappling with resources to meet economic and other challenges including climate change effects and financing infrastructure development it has for long espoused.
Zambia is rated seventh on the top 10-tier-global producers of copper and second in Africa, second to its northern neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is now looking towards exploring the gold, manganese, iron ore, vanadium and other precious minerals.
According to the African Cannabis Report, Africa’s legal cannabis industry could be worth more than $7.1 billion annually by 2023 if legislation is introduced in some of the continent’s major markets. Companies wishing to trade in marijuana in Zambia will be charged $250,000 annual licence fees.
Last year, South Africa’s Constitutional Court paved way for the relaxation of laws on drug use and consumption, when it ruled that private use of marijuana, locally referred to as dagga, is not a criminal offence.
“The right to privacy is not confined to a home or private dwelling. It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private space,” reports say, citing deputy chief justice, Raymond Zondo.
Last year, Zimbabwe issued new regulations allowing individuals and companies to be licensed to cultivate marijuana, known locally as mbanje. Zimbabweans are now able to apply for licences to grow cannabis for medical and research purposes. The five-year renewable licences will allow growers to possess, transport and sell fresh and dried cannabis as well as cannabis oil.
Lesotho, led the way in cultivation of the weed with authorities saying the opportunity was good for the mountainous state.
“It attracts investors. So far we have around 10 businesses operating in the territory,” deputy health minister, Manthabiseng Phohleli, was cited by AFP.
The legalisation of cannabis presented a huge opportunity for the country, which boasts 300 days of sunshine per year.
The government charges 30,000 euros for a one-year renewable licence to grow cannabis. Known as “matekoane” in Sesotho, the country’s national language, it has been grown for centuries in rural areas.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 70 percent of marijuana consumed in South Africa is grown in Lesotho, making cannabis the country’s third source of revenue.