Dagga: a budding opportunity

20th July 2018 By: Martin Zhuwakinyu - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

First, a disclaimer: I am of very sober habits and this week’s topic – the apparent desire by many on our continent to embrace the cannabis business – is not at all indicative of my recreational preference. I am also not a closet Rastafarian.

The latest country to hop on the cannabis bandwagon is Zimbabwe, which now permits its cultivation. T’s and C’s apply, though, these being that it must be used for medicinal and research purposes only. That’s more stringent than in Mzansi, where the Western Cape High Court ruled in 2017 that you may now grow – and smoke – as much of the stuff as you like, provided this takes place within the confines of your home. But, for the pro- legalisation crowd, unbridled celebrations are not quite in order yet, as State lawyers have appealed that judgment.

It was perhaps in light of this wrangling that, last year, Verve Dynamics, a South Africa company that manufactures medicines from indigenous plants, applied for, and was granted, a licence to grow the weed in neighbouring Lesotho and process it into capsules and tinctures that it will export to overseas markets. And cannabis markets are now a dime a dozen, with Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel and the Netherlands now allowing marijuana use for medicinal purposes. While the US administration remains hostile, nine states and the District of Columbia now permit recreational use and 30 have given the nod to medicinal use. More states are lining up to join the liberalisation wave.

Lesotho’s welcoming attitude has not gone unnoticed by investors such as Canada’s Supreme Cannabis, which announced in March this year that it would spend $7.7- million to acquire a 10% stake in Medigrow, a company licensed to grow cannabis in Lesotho and manufacture cannabis oil products. The US’s Rhizo Sciences has also made a beeline for the Mountain Kingdom, where it has bought into a locally licensed cannabis producer.

The push to have cannabis legalised has not been confined to our neck of the woods – activists who include very sober Parliamentarians have been championing this cause in countries as varied as Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco and Swaziland (oops! It’s now called eSwatini).

The hard-nosed executives at Supreme Cannabis must be keeping their fingers crossed that these countries move with speed to legalise the weed. I have seen the press release announcing the company’s investment in Lesotho. Reading between the lines, one gets the impression that Lesotho, a tiny country with a paltry 2.2-million people, is only a stepping stone to African countries with substantial populations.

To reiterate, I have never used – or abused – cannabis, not even à la Bill Clinton, the former US President, who claimed a quarter of a century ago: “I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale and I didn’t try it again.” But I do hope the good Lord grants Supreme Cannabis its wish.

A liberalised cannabis industry will bring with it many economic benefits for African countries, including much-needed jobs. Supreme Cannabis, for example, will initially employ 40 Basotho, but the company envisages increasing the staff complement two- to threefold when it implements subsequent phases. Many more will be employed in downstream activities. Considering that the extended family system in Africa is largely still intact, the multiplier effect will be sizeable.

The global cannabis market is believed to be worth about $7.7-billion and projected to hit the $31.4-billion mark by 2020 as many countries relax their anti-cannabis laws. I know the mere mention of the word ‘cannabis’ offends the moral sensibilities of many, but I think we should not have any qualms about tapping into this immense market – for the sake of our struggling economies without any resources to write home about and the millions of young men and women who daily roam the streets, hoping against hope that they will find that elusive job.

As experts point out, African countries located near the equator should be able to grow a gram of cannabis for just a few cents, compared with $2 in places like the US state of California. Crop failures in these climes are also unlikely. Let’s use that God-given advantage.