The African cannabis industry is expected to be worth over US$7.1 billion by 2023. However, many countries will not benefit from the growth unless they abandon their colonial anti-cannabis laws. The time for legal change is now.

According to The African Cannabis Report, the African cannabis industry is potentially going to be worth more than US$7.1 billion annually by 2023. However, there is a telling caveat: the cannabis industry should be fully legal and regulated. The report, however, established that “Cannabis consumption, trade, and cultivation is mostly illegal across the African continent, with strict punitive measures.” In short, many African countries are illegalizing a vibrant revenue stream.

In Kenya, the anti-narcotics unit is reported to have conducted “an intense campaign to stop the cultivation and trade of cannabis”. The African Cannabis Report says vast tracts of cannabis plantations are bulldozed or set on fire every year. Gabon punishes the use of cannabis with prison sentences ranging from 6 months to 2 years. The list of severe State punishments meted out against growing or using cannabis is quite long and only Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Lesotho now have regulatory frameworks allowing cultivation of cannabis. South Africa has gone a step further and decriminalized private cultivation and consumption of cannabis.

Despite the intolerant legal attitude towards cannabis in most countries, the report says its use is widely tolerated by the public. One might even argue that cannabis use is engrained in many African societies as there is proof it has been used recreationally and medicinally for generations. For example, around three-quarters of the Basotho people of Lesotho have cultivated and used cannabis as medicine for over a Millenium. Simba Jama, writing for The Patriot also makes the point that cannabis sativa was cultivated and used in Southern Africa for a long time.

The punitive drug policies are, therefore, a legacy of colonialism that now rests on nothing apart from intellectual laziness and internalised colonialism. The laws in many African states are “replete with racism”, as a South African court judgment noted in 2018. With the growth of the cannabis industry comes an opportunity to bury racist laws while empowering populations. This is not the time to keep romanticizing the conservative and oppressive laws of the colonizer. This is the time to truly free the continent, make billions and enrich communities.