Zambia has officially legalized the production and export of cannabis for medical use in a move designed to boost its ailing economy and counter a looming debt crisis.
Until now, the cultivation or possession of cannabis was prohibited in Zambia and subject to a jail sentence, according to Yahoo.
Zambia’s economy is struggling as the Southern African country spirals toward a debt crisis that has grown to around $10.5 billion in external debt in 2018 from $8.74 billion a year earlier, DailyMaverick reports.
The country’s risk of overall and external debt distress remains high with public debt under the current policies on an unsustainable path, according to the 2019 joint World Bank and International Monetary Fund Debt Sustainability Analysis.
The legalization of cannabis opens up a potentially lucrative market that Zambia plans to tap into to relieve its growing debt burden.
Zambian opposition Green Party President Peter Sinkamba has been advocating for the export of cannabis since 2013. The new opportunity to export cannabis could earn Zambia up to $36 billion annually, he said.
That estimate appears to be overexaggerated. The African Cannabis Report, the first detailed report on the legal cannabis industry in Africa, suggests that a legalized cannabis industry in all of Africa could be worth more than $7.1 billion annually by 2023.
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Zambia is the latest Southern African country to legalize cannabis in some form to boost economic growth and export prospects.
Cannabis remains illegal throughout most of Africa. Lesotho, a small landlocked Southern African country with a population of around 2.2 million people, became the first African country to legalize cannabis in 2017.
In South Africa, medicinal use of cannabis is legal and recreational use is in the process of being legalized. Cnnabis farming for medicinal use is also legal in Zimbabwe.