Africa’s Medicinal Cannabis Industry
Africa’s Medicinal Cannabis industry has expanded considerably since the first Cannabis Company received a license to grow Medicinal Cannabis in the Kingdom of Lesotho, Africa.
African Cannabis Regulatory Environment
African cannabis industry development depends on establishing world class production standards, facilities and professionalism. The budding industry can learn a lot from mature markets in North America, and other highly regulated emerging markets such as Australia (which has comparable pharmaceutical manufacturing standards), Europe, Israel and South America.
Developing a clear understanding of local and international requirements and the best approaches to developing and commercialising new facilities is essential – the medicinal cannabis industry is highly regulated and capital intensive – this is definitely not a “Get rich quick” type of industry or opportunity.
Each country so far has developed it’s own regulatory standards and it takes time for regulators to plan, navigate and develop the many challenges facing legalisation of a new new industry.
African Cannabis Consulting
Rhizo Sciences provides medicinal cannabis consulting for licensed cannabis companies and investors.
We draw on an international team of experts with hands on experience in regulated legal markets. Rhizo Sciences has worked with several of the pioneering cannabis companies and investors across Africa and was the first company to complete an export of medicinal cannabis from Africa to Lesotho.
We specialise in medicinal cannabis and address the full business lifecycle, from formation and licensing through to cultivation, processing and sale.
At this stage of the industry much of our work involves developing the infrastructure and regulatory requirements to launch successful companies and develop a strong African Cannabis industry. Our goal is to develop a viable, sustainable and ethical medicinal cannabis industry in Africa so that the continent can win it’s fair share of the global cannabis industry.
Since the first license, over 20 licenses have been awarded in Lesotho. Of these, Medi Grow has advanced the most with substantial greenhouse and infrastructure development, a world class extraction and export facility. Medi Grow has helped to set a benchmark for cannabis in Africa.
The emerging industry in Lesotho has attracted global interest with many Canadian and other international groups seeking to invest in the region. As a result, the industry here is the best developed of the region, but is still in it’s infancy. Most companies have not yet developed their licenses or facilities, and often lack an understanding or the resources to meet international export requirements.
Many investors have looked to Lesotho as an easy or low cost way to enter the industry but had unrealistic expectations of the quality and export requirements. Setting up a compliant medicinal cannabis operation in Africa still requires the same high standards and attention to detail and hygiene as anywhere else in the world.
Lesotho will likely offer significant advantages over the long term due to it’s excellent growing conditions and low wage, well educated workforce.
Low Cost African Cannabis Not on the Menu
What we aren’t seeing is large scale low cost cultivation to local standards – as this product is unlikely to meet quality, manufacturing compliance or export standards. There is no point growing cheap cannabis that can’t be sold – particularly in a country like Lesotho where there is still no legal export market.
Likewise, craft style cannabis industries and the recreational side of the industry are not addressed by the medicinal framework. These may evolve over time through separate channels.
Zimbabwe become the second African license to issue licenses for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis in 2018, but then reversed the decision and halted the licensing process after many more applications were recieved than expected, and regulators gained a better understanding of the regulatory and management requirements of a medicinal cannabis system.
In March 2019, Zimbabwe has issued a number of licenses via public/private partnerships on government land operated by police and security forces. This approach was taken to ensure security and prevent diversion of medicinal cannabis product.
South African Cannabis
South Africa issued it’s first medicinal cannabis license in March 2019 to a partnership between House of Hemp and Afriplex for a Cape Town pilot facility. Several other groups are currently going through the licensing process and it is likely more licenses will be approved in 2019.
South Africa effectively decriminalised personal cannabis use and possession in the privacy of individual’s homes, but still does not have laws defining legal use or allowing cultivation or sale of cannabis.
As such, there is enormous enthusiasm for cannabis in African but much confusion about how to operate legally.
In Malawi, there is a hemp pilot program which has been operating for several years.
African Cannabis Research Programs
Additionally, there are pilot schemes – for both hemp and high THC cannabis. These are often operating under government exemptions or as research operations, and should not be considered as part of a commercial industry.
Cannabis Legality in Africa
Cannabis is an important cash, subsistence and medicinal crop in many regions of Africa. While illegal in most countries, cultivation and possession of small quantities is often overlooked by local authorities.
Note that South Africa has given Cannabis has a de-facto decriminalised status through a court case finding but no laws have been passed to decriminalise or legalise it and sale or commercial activity remains illegal. Would be cannabis entrepreneurs and investors should be very clear that outside of strict highly regulated environments cannabis remains very risky, and “dabbling” in grey markets is incompatible with the regulated industry and can compromise approval of licenses or travel until there is real legal reform.
African nations have some of the highest rates of usage world wide and in the event of legalisation strong local demand would be anticipated across the continent.
Politics of African Cannabis
Cannabis prohibition is rightly seen as a colonial impost preventing developing countries for commercialising their endemic botanical heritage and superior cultivation environment.
Given an open legal playing field, Africa will be a powerhouse on the global cannabis stage with enormous benefits to the environment, human and animal health.
Cannabis as an Agricultural Commodity in Africa
African Cannabis is likely to become a major agricultural commodity market as other cash and subsistence drops have. Comparable crops include coffee, cacao and tobacco – all are grown on plants, are labor intensive, and require significant local processing before being sold onto world markets.
The highly regulated nature of medicinal cannabis will likely keep high THC cannabis out of commodity markets, but hemp, particularly hemp seed, hemp seed oil and hemp fibre are ripe for rapid commodity market entry as they have direct parallels with other grains, oil seeds and fibre sources such as canola, sunflower or cotton.