Is Africa The Next Cannabis Superpower? Lesotho First African Country to Grant Medical Marijuana License

Lesotho Grants First Medical Marijuana License

Africa contains fifty-four fully recognized sovereign states (countries), nine territories and covers over twenty percent of the Earth’s total land area. The continent is immense, and referred to by many as “The Motherland.” Paleoanthropologists believe it to be the place of the origin of the first hominids, our evolutionary ancestors. It is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent and, like much of the rest of the world, many of its countries are taking a more accepting look at the benefits of legalizing cannabis.

Lesotho Grants First Medical Marijuana License
Bob Marley – “Love the life you live, live the life you love.”

Bob Marley shared his Jamaican heritage and Rastafarian lifestyle with the world and was met with love by many, but even the Caribbean island of Jamaica didn’t legalize or decriminalize marijuana until 2015. Bob Marley’s impact on the scope of cannabis acceptance and advocacy is about as geographically close as we get to the continent of Africa, but Africa is actually one of the world’s largest producers of cannabis. Lesotho, a small country completely surrounded by South Africa, is one such example, and recently became the first African country to grant a license for medical marijuana.

Lesotho is no stranger to cannabis cultivation. Lesothan farmers have been growing cannabis for generations, and, according to locals, the country has no problem with cannabis: they see it as a medicinal plant and a huge source of income for large portions of their impoverished population. “This is why the government cannot get that tough on Lesothans, on those of us who grow it, because they know that it is how we survive,” one local explained. “Some of the ministers grew up in such families, and they know that this is how peasants in those regions survive.” Growing cannabis among other crops and selling it to South Africa (which receives about seventy percent of its marijuana supply through Lesotho) has helped to sustain many families, despite being completely illegal until recently—much like the urban centers of America.

Lesotho Grants First Medical Marijuana License
Lesotho Grants First Medical Marijuana License

So far only one firm, Verve Dynamics out of South Africa, has been given regulatory approval to begin the process of growing and producing cannabis extracts commercially. Verve Dynamics calls themselves “a dedicated Vegan friendly manufacturer of highly purified botanical extracts and specialty ingredients sourced exclusively by us from around the world.” But South Africa has yet to fully legalize cannabis. Many expected legalization in some form after Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, a politician with stage four lung cancer, plead with parliament to legalize medical marijuana to ease his suffering and potentially cure his disease. Three years after his death, South Africa agreed that privacy to use cannabis in the home as well as legal freedom for Rastafarians was their right. The South African Drugs and Drugs Trafficking Act, however, still lists Cannabis under “Undesirable Dependence-Producing Substances” and states that “Canabis (sic) (Dagga), the whole plant or any portion thereof, except dronabinol, is illegal.” Which begs the question: where exactly is this Verve Dynamics facility, and how does the company plan to proceed, considering open cultivation, distribution and public use are still illegal in South Africa? We reached out to the company and have yet to hear back.

One South African couple knows this struggle all too well. After having their home raided, Myrtle Clark and Julian Stobbs’ lives drastically changed—they went from working in the film and television industry to being full-time legalization activists through Fields Of Green For ALL, their non-profit. They travel as speakers and motivators as the “Dagga Couple,” a phrase coined by the South African press (Dagga meaning marijuana). “We think there are over 500 arrests a day in SA for small time possession,” Stobbs told us. “The cops have quotas for drug arrests, so weed gets the most attention. They’ve vilified this plant for 100 years and kicked down a lot of doors. That doesn’t go away easily.” But Clarke and Stobbs, along with The South African Traditional Healers Association, are determined to make cannabis affordable and available to all who need it. According to Stobbs, The Trial of the Plant will restart around the middle of next year.

Lesotho Grants First Medical Marijuana License

Zimbabwe is also considering legalization. Amusingly enough, when Investment Promotion Minister Obert Mpofu first received the inquiry from a Canadian cannabis firm about producing mbanje (the Zimbabwean word for cannabis) in Zimbabwe, he thought it was a joke, but after some research he discovered how serious they really were. “This company is from Canada, and it’s one of the biggest conglomerates in that country, and they are producing cannabis for medical purposes under strict conditions,” he told a local paper.

Zimbabwe is in the process of creating Special Economic Zones (SEZs), which are meant to “offer investors incentives, including exemption from some provisions of the labour law and black economic empowerment rules,” which would ideally create a level playing field and a more inclusive market. “We have received numerous inquiries from investors who want to participate in the SEZs and one of them is a big international company that wants to be involved in the production of cannabis,” Mpofu told Sunday News.

Possession and cultivation of cannabis is illegal in Zimbabwe, and many have been jailed even for personal medicinal use. A Harare man was imprisoned for a year for growing cannabis to treat a rare bone ailment. “I don’t see anything wrong, and I think if we legalise [production of] mbanje we will benefit medically because it is used for pain killers such as morphine,” Mpofu explained to Sunday News. With the potential for profit and an open mind, it looks like Zimbabwe isn’t far from some form of legalization.

South Africa, Swaziland, West Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Morocco and more all contribute crops to cannabis consumers all over the world, including Europe and the Republic of Ireland. This is just a pinhole view into the macrocosm of tradition and trade of cannabis in Africa. With the global movement and community of advocates working towards cannabis legalization, it’s high time we pay more attention to the global re-awakening of how cannabis can transform our economies.

Lesotho Grants First Medical Marijuana License
Luna Reyna

Luna Reyna (she/ella) is the founder of RIZE Entertainment. She is deeply invested in shifting power structures and centering and amplifying the work and voices of systematically excluded within the arts. She believes that art is vital for revolutionary practice and movements and hopes that RIZE can be an instrument for amplifying art that expresses the conditions of an unjust society and facilitates healing.