Photograph — Brett Levin

In a bid to boost its economy, Zambia legalized the production and exportation of cannabis on Monday which will serve only economic and medicinal purposes. 

The Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Dora Siliya who also doubles as the government’s chief spokesperson revealed that the approval for the export of cannabis was granted at a special cabinet meeting earlier this month. 

Zambia joins a host of countries around the world who has legalized cannabis to a large extent, especially for its medical benefits. These countries include Canada, Georgia, South Africa, Uruguay, Argentina, Australia, Italy, and Jamaica amongst others. 

The legalization of cannabis in the Southern African country is coming in at a time when the country is heading towards a debt crisis with over $10 billion in external debt. Zambia’s increased borrowing to finance large capital expenditure led to this sharp increase in external debt.

With reports from the 2019 joint World Bank and IMFDebt Sustainability Analysis, the country’s risk of overall and external debt distress remains very high with public debt under the current policies on an unsustainable path.

However, Peter Sinkamba, Zambian opposition Green Party President who has been advocating for the exportation of cannabis since 2013, said this singular action could earn the country up to $36 billion annually.

Sinkamba disclosed that the government has directed the Ministry of Health to coordinate and issue the necessary licenses whilst a technical team consisting of different ministers will draw up a series of guidelines binding the production and exportation of cannabis. 

The Green party president also added that “this could change the face of Zambia’s economy,” depending on how the government handles. He emphasized that “this could be a blessing or a curse, like diamonds and gold, depending on the policy direction.” 

According to research by The African Cannabis Report, the first detailed report on the legal cannabis industry in Africa, the continent’s legal cannabis industry could be worth more than $7.1 billion annually by 2023 if legislation is introduced in some of the continent’s major markets.

While African cannabis industries have great potential, cannabis remains illegal throughout Africa except in Lesotho. If properly executed in Zambia, the outcome of the cannabis exportation is set to refurbish key areas in the economy and gradually uplift the country from external debts. 

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