In 2007, the United Nations estimated that 38.2 million adults in Africa used marijuana each year yet it was illegal in all countries. This was (and still is) money being channelled to shadow markets yet legalisation would make sure States get a piece of the pie. More than 10,000 tonnes of cannabis are being produced on the continent annually making this a potentially multi-billion-dollar industry. Thankfully, more countries are starting to see the light.
In Swaziland, public officials have seen that they are sitting on gold (albeit green gold). In 2015, Phiwayinkosi Mabuza, Housing and Urban Development Minister argued that the country should legalise cannabis to boost the economy while the National Commissioner of Police called on the government to do a study to establish whether it was desirable to legalise the drug. Mabuza said, “First world countries have decriminalised the growing and use of dagga. We have to be objective and not hysterical when we approach the subject.”
Earlier this year, it was reported that a five-member committee of Swazi lawmakers was investigating legalising the use of cannabis to boost the country’s economy. The committee was appointed by Swazi legislators who believe the kingdom could earn $1.63 billion in a year from cannabis thus tripling its domestic product. The House of Assembly was told on the 31st of March that carpets, army uniforms and medicine could be made from cannabis. It remains to be seen what will happen in Swaziland but the kingdom is clearly hard at work. However, Swaziland seems to be focusing on the medicinal utility of marijuana meaning recreational use might not get the greenlight soon. However, do not despair as South Africa has taken the movement a step further.
South Africa’s Western Cape High Court earlier this year declared it legal to grow and smoke dagga in one’s home. The judgment now awaits confirmation in the Constitutional Court but there is a catch. The import of the judgment is that “it is still illegal to own or use marijuana. However, the ruling means that South Africans can smoke and grow in the safety of their own homes, with a slightly greater peace of mind that they will not face legal ramifications”.
The judgment is based on the right to privacy and not some right to smoke marijuana. Finding there was insufficient evidence of the harmfulness of marijuana to justify limiting an individual’s right to privacy, the court found the law unconstitutional. Distribution and public use are still illegal. The government said it would appeal the decision and in the meantime, all the smokers can do is hold their breaths and hope for the best. However, in the words of Jeremy Action, an advocate for legalisation, “Things are looking are very positive for some kind of change.”
In Malawi, steps have been taken to legalise hemp, a mild species of weed (chamba in Malawi). One of the major proponents of legalising hemp in Malawi, Kadzamira argues that in the future, the country might have to think about legalising weed. He said, “In the future, we have to think about it but for now, it’s a very serious topic. It’s an emotive issue, and we’re trying as much as possible not to mix it with industrial hemp.” Malawi is not quite there yet for the recreational user but industrial hemp will most probably be legalised. This is a start of good things!
In Zimbabwe, the government is reportedly considering an application by a Canadian international company to produce cannabis for medical purposes. This could result in the country legalising production and use of marijuana in selected areas. Cabinet member, Obert Mpofu said, “I also laughed and thought they were joking when I received the inquiry but they are serious. This seems to be big business.” Indeed, it is and Zimbabwe is better for considering it.
While the recreational smoker might have to wait for a few more years or decades, cannabis is enjoying a renaissance in Africa. History will prove that colonialists passed laws that banned use of cannabis. The laws are clearly racist legacies and have outlived their usefulness. In fact, United States of America first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics summarised the whole philosophy behind the demonization of cannabis as that it “makes darkies think they’re as good as white men”. African countries have no business maintaining racist laws that are backed by nothing but emotive statements of alternative facts and they are realising it.
It should be noted that studies have shown that marijuana is far less dangerous than legal substances like alcohol and tobacco.