In the global cannabis landscape, Africa is an often-forgotten market for several reasons: the plant is illegal throughout the continent and economic conditions are poor in most African countries. However, in the long term, this continent has the potential to become a huge market for medicinal cannabis, thanks to its large population and favorable climate for the cultivation of the plant, compared to Europe.
A report by the consulting agency Prohibition Partners reveals that by 2023, the African cannabis market could reach $7.1 billion (€6.3 billion). This figure would largely come from the recreational market, since the medicinal market estimate will be much lower, with about 800 million dollars (710 million euros) and about 420,000 patients.
The United Nations estimates that more than 38,000 tons of cannabis are produced annually in Africa, an incredibly lucrative black market. While in Morocco alone, and according to the Network for the Industrial and Therapeutic Use of Cannabis cited by Prohibition Partners, the clandestine cannabis industry is estimated at $10 billion (‘8.8 billion) and employs 800,000 people.
Of the 54 countries on the African continent, only three (Lesotho, South Africa, and Zimbabwe) allow the therapeutic use of cannabis, while Zambia is in the process of adopting legislation to allow it. Malawi is the last African country to consider the legalization of therapeutic cannabis, following the collapse of its tobacco industry, its main source of income, after the many anti-tobacco campaigns.
However, in no African country is the legislation clear enough to allow recreational use. In South Africa, for example, recreational use is illegal, but cannabis has been decriminalized for cultivation and private consumption. In Egypt, recreational use is illegal but tolerated. In Morocco, it is also illegal, but the prohibition of therapeutic and recreational use is rarely respected. In other countries, such as Ghana and Nigeria, cannabis is cultivated illegally but massively, mainly for export to neighboring countries.
But there is hope in the south of the continent and the first country to allow cultivation is Lesotho, whose mountainous and landlocked terrain will give it a favorable climate, abundant water and fertile soil for the cultivation of the best medicinal cannabis.
Cannabis cultivation is strongly rooted, with an estimated 70 % of the cannabis passing through South Africa being cultivated in the country. So,Lesotho has attracted the attention of foreign investors thanks to the possibility of cultivating for export.
In 2017, the Kingdom of Lesotho was the first African country to legalize the cultivation and export of medicinal cannabis, which had allowed many farmers formerly present on the black market to legalize their activity.
Last year, the Canadian company Canopy Growth Corp. acquired Daddy Cann Lesotho and its license to grow, manufacture and export cannabis for $30 million. But so was another Canadian, Supreme Cannabis, owner of Medigrow Lesotho, a cannabis oil producer.
Recently, the Toronto-based company White Sheep Corp. opened a cannabis cultivation facility in the suburbs of Maseru, with an annual production capacity of 58.2 tons once the work was completed.
Result, Lesotho is poised to become one of the world’s leading suppliers of cannabinoids for export, due to its altitude, low humidity, and sunny climate, but also for its political stability, commitment to cannabis and experienced workforce.
In fact, Zimbabwe became the second African country to legalize the cultivation of cannabis for therapeutic and scientific purposes in April 2018, in the hope of developing a powerful industry.
At this point, Zimbabwe has reopened the procedure and is in the process of licensing 37 producers. Indeed, in May 2019, the construction of the country’s first legal cannabis farm voted: 10-hectare cultivation in a prison (the multinational Ivory Medical had acquired the first one), chosen for its high security. However,Ivory is now planning to expand the cultivation to an additional 80 hectares. The company is currently leasing the space to the State.
But things can change. While legislative changes in Zimbabwe are still few and far between, so,the arrival of the first licenses of medicinal cannabis will demonstrate the plant’s many benefits for consumption or local economies. This could undoubtedly guarantee a better future for its inhabitants.
Unlike,in South Africa, which has a national market of 60 million inhabitants. South Africa decriminalized cultivation and private consumption but also legalized medicinal cannabis in February 2017. Despite this, at the beginning of the year, they had not yet licensed any cannabis cultivation for medicinal use, but CBD-based therapeutic products were still available in South Africa, most of them illegally.
A recent change in South Africa’s Drug Act, however, made it the first country in Africa to develop a federally approved market for marketing CBD without a prescription.