Law change hailed by supporters as chance for country to benefit from rising global demand for medicinal cannabis products
Malawi has passed a bill decriminalising cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes, almost five years after a motion to legalise industrial hemp was adopted.
The country follows in the footsteps of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Lesotho, neighbouring south-east African states that have legalised medicinal cannabis, as well as South Africa, where medicinal and recreational use was decriminalised in 2018.
“Today is a very glorious day for me personally and, I think, for the entire nation,” said Boniface Kadzamira, the former MP who tabled the topic in 2015, following the successful passage of the bill on Thursday.
The economic potential of the fast-growing global medicinal and industrial cannabis industry has been the main driver of the law change in Malawi. In 2019, the World Bank said Malawi “remains one of the poorest countries in the world despite making significant economic and structural reforms to sustain economic growth”. The national poverty rate was more than 50% in 2016.
While Malawi is famous internationally for its recreational cannabis strain “Malawi Gold”, the bill to legalise medicinal and industrial production faced huge opposition from social and religious conservatives in the country.
“It is my strong view that cannabis will in the long run replace tobacco to become our major cash crop – that will contribute hugely to the GDP,” said Kadzamira, who explained that the industry will create employment opportunities in the farming and industrial sectors.
Agriculture offers employment to nearly 80% of Malawi’s population. Tobacco is the country’s major export, and the global decline in its use has impacted the economy. Malawi’s tobacco industry is also marred by exploitation, as international companies such as British American Tobacco have sought cheap labour – including child labour – and low tariffs on raw tobacco for export.