Malawi is the latest Southern African country to legalize cannabis, following in the footsteps of Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Cannabis has long been one of Malawi’s biggest unofficial exports. Malawi Gold is a world-renowned strain of cannabis grown naturally in the country.
Malawi legislators officially made cannabis legal for use in the production of medicines and hemp fibers used in industry, according to Reuters.
Until now, the cultivation or possession of cannabis for any reason was prohibited in Malawi and subject to a jail sentence. Recreational use remains illegal in the country.
The legalization of cannabis for medical and industrial applications opens up a potentially lucrative market that Malawi plans to tap into.
Tobacco has been Malawi’s main foreign currency earner since the country’s independence from the U.K. in 1964, BusinessLive reports.
Tobacco accounts for 13 percent of Malawi’s GDP but prices have fallen in recent years due to global anti-tobacco campaigns and reduced demand.
Malawi’s top export destinations include Belgium-Luxembourg, Germany, Russia, the U.S., and South Africa.
Legalized cannabis in Africa could be worth more than $7.1 billion annually by 2023, according to The African Cannabis Report, the first detailed report on the legal cannabis industry in Africa.
In December, Zambia 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.
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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, according to BBC.
In South Africa, the medicinal use of cannabis is legal and recreational use is in the process of being legalized. Medicinal cannabis farming is legal in Zimbabwe.
Other African countries including Swaziland and Uganda are considering legalizing cannabis cultivation for medical or export applications.