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The Great Potential of the African Cannabis Market

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Apr 03, 2019   
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The Europe-based cannabis market intelligence and strategic consultancy firm Prohibition Partners has published the latest in its series of regional reports that aim to provide further insight and data on the key cannabis markets around the world. The African Cannabis Report, released in full at the end of March, now joins similar reports on Europe, Oceania, and Latin America in the firm’s library of market analyses. 

The report details the legal status of cannabis and cannabis products across the African nations and analyses the potential for commercial and business opportunities in a number of the countries, as well as providing speculation on emerging trends and market forecasts for the future of the African cannabis market.

Many nations are beginning to want legalization

Although it is estimated that the African continent already produces around 38,000 tons of cannabis each year, the majority of African countries still officially consider marijuana as an illegal crop to cultivate. Additionally, no African country has yet to fully legalize recreational cannabis use, despite a few exceptions which have legalized cultivation for medicinal purposes or research purposes.

One section of the Prohibition Partners report attempts to visualize the extent of cannabis law reform on the continent by categorizing the different countries as belonging to one of three tiers. Tier 1 countries are the pioneers of African cannabis legalization, having already made significant changes to their laws and regulations regarding cannabis. Tier 1 includes Lesotho and Zimbabwe, which respectively were the first and second African countries to legalize cannabis cultivation for medicinal purposes. Also included is South Africa, where a court case found that it was an unconstitutional invasion of privacy to prohibit the use of cannabis on private property in the country. As a result, the court has overturned the cannabis prohibition laws, effectively decriminalizing all private cannabis use until the country’s parliament can formally reform the country’s cannabis laws. 

A number of countries were also identified as Tier 2 countries, which are defined as countries that have active reviews of their current cannabis laws, or are likely to introduce some form of cannabis liberalization measures in the near-future. The report lists Malawi, Morocco, Ghana, and eSwatini (formally Swaziland) as countries with active campaigns to change the legal status of cannabis within their borders. In addition, a number of petitions have been put to parliament in Kenya that ask for cannabis law reform to be considered, and previously a Kenyan lawmaker has made efforts to introduce a bill for cabinet approval that would both legalize cannabis use and clear the criminal records of those with cannabis-related offenses in the country. Similar actions have been taken in Egypt, but the report notes that the current political balance in Egypt makes it unlikely that reform would happen quickly.

The remaining countries are listed as Tier 3 countries, regions that are unlikely to bring in reform measures any time soon. One notable inclusion among these countries is Zambia, which the report explains was at one point poised to legalize cannabis after the country’s Home Affairs Minister, Steven Kampyongo, made a statement to the Government finding that the country’s Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act does not, in fact, prohibit the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. However, subsequent statements from the country’s Ministry of Health have made it clear that the current Zambian government does not intend to legalize medical cannabis use. 

Big money, big market

The Prohibition Partners report identified nine countries of particular interest for profiling: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Nigeria, Morocco, Malawi, Ghana, eSwatini, and Zambia. 

Working under the assumption that all targeted countries were to legalize and regulate their own cannabis industries within the next four years, the experts at Prohibition Partners estimate that the value of the African legal cannabis market could be worth over $7.1 billion USD by the year 2023. The recreational cannabis market alone was predicted to be worth in excess of $6.3 billion USD under this forecast. The medical cannabis figure is more conservative in comparison, just $0.8 billion USD, on account of the present healthcare systems in continent being known to struggle with inaccessibility issues, and these would likely still apply to medicinal cannabis operations without the support of charities or other donors to the local healthcare industries.

One reason for such a high total market potential, is the already notable usage rates of cannabis in a number of African countries. Despite the drug being prohibited for the majority of the continent, there are five African countries in the list of the world’s top thirty countries for cannabis use prevalence among adults. These are, in order, Nigeria (14.3 percent prevalence and number three in the world), Zambia, Madagascar, Egypt, and Sierra Leone (5.2 percent). These high consumption statistics despite prohibition can often be explained culturally. For example, cannabis consumption is considered an ordinary part of life within the Rastafari religion, and cannabis has been a key part of the traditional herbal medicine practiced by around three-quarters of Basotho (the people of Lesotho) for well over a millennium.

The future for African cannabis

Agriculturally, many African countries are perfectly poised to thrive in a regulated cannabis market. The climate is ideal for cannabis growth and cannabis is already an attractive cash crop for many farmers. Putting a regulated market in place through legalization could help support local business. Already in Zimbabwe, where medical cannabis cultivation is legalized, cultivation license applicants can only come from citizens or residents of Zimbabwe and not from international businesses, as a way of safeguarding local interests.

Still, there are some structural hurdles that might hamper the growth of a fruitful African cannabis market. While many regions do have strong agricultural expertise, there are also concerns that insufficient irrigation technologies might hamper any large-scale operations unless significant outside investment can be secured. This is also true for the use of more novel cultivation methods, such as hydroponic cultivation, which might require more significant upfront investment. 

Africa is often overlooked as a key potential market for the cannabis industry. But this report makes it clear that if these identified markets do move towards further cannabis legalization and regulation, there is significant market potential, both for local communities and for external investors, that is just waiting to be unlocked.

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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