This is the first in a two-part AFKInsider series on marijuana tolerance in Africa — or lack of it. You can read Part 2 here.
African governments have tried to limit and stop its use, but marijuana remains deeply ingrained in African tradition, recreation and economies.
It is illegal everywhere in Africa, but an important source of income. Levels of tolerance and law enforcement related to marijuana vary from country to country.
The website Marijuana Travels ranks 260 countries including at least 42 African countries for tolerance to marijuana. Countries are ranked from 1 — highly prohibited — to 10 — legal. Rankings include on-the-ground information on enforcement. The site appears to be updated regularly, in some cases, daily. The home page says the site was created to inform viewers of conditions affecting marijuana, which can change daily and sometimes hourly.
Indigenous to Central and South Asia, cannabis is thought to have made its way to Africa through contact with Arab traders connected to India.
The earliest evidence for cannabis in Africa outside of Egypt comes from 14th-century Ethiopia, where ceramic smoking-pipe bowls with traces of cannabis stood the test of time, showing up in archaeological excavations.
From Ethiopia, cannabis seeds were carried south by Bantu speakers who originally lived in North Africa. From them the use of cannabis as an intoxicant is thought to have spread to other native Africans such as the San.
Dominican priest Joao dos Santos wrote about the plant in 1609, saying it was grown near the Cape of Good Hope and was called bangue.
Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope, described the use of cannabis by Hottentots in 1658.
Colorado, the first U.S. state to allow the sale of recreational marijuana, expected to take in $60 million to $70 million in taxes from legal marijuana sales in 2014, according to the Denver Business Journal.
If all 50 U.S. states legalized marijuana, they could stand to gain more than $3 billion in tax revenue collectively from legal marijuana sales, according to NerdWallet, a personal finance site.
AFKInsider compiled a list of 18 countries and ranked them for marijuana tolerance in Africa. Countries are ranked on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is highly prohibited and 10 is legal.
This AFKInsider article was first published May 13, 2015.
Mauritius does not acknowledge any medical advantages of marijuana. Some local police are always on surveillance. Just a half gram of marijuana can result in a big fine.
Due to the extremely strict laws of cannabis in Mauritius, an estimated 75 percent of prisoners are in jails for smoking marijuana, according to MarijuanaTravels. There is a movement in the country to find scientific, biological and historical justifications for changing the laws in favor of legalizing marijuana.
The use of marijuana even for medical purposes is illegal in Angola. No amount of marijuana is considered legal for possession but law enforcement against marijuana is not that strong. Locals produce cannbis commonly known as liamba.
In Mozambique marijuana is grown extensively and even put up with, but possession of cannabis sativa is strictly illegal. Possession of small quantities can result in small fines especially in cases where marijuana users smoke in public.
Mozambican police are notorious for frustrating citizens and may demand a kickback.
It is illegal to smoke or grow marijuana in Zimbabwe. The laws are very strict but there is a marked difference with what the law says compared to what’s actually happening.
A good number of Zimbabweans police can speak English and if you encounter them, chances you will be let free. But try not to push your luck.
Lots of young people smoke marijuana in the country and there are many street retailers.
In Egypt, any activity such as possession and use of cannabis is considered illegal. However, use is widespread and part of everyday culture. Convictions are very rare for personal use.
Formerly a plant of high status with documented medicinal uses in ancient times, cannabis was made illegal in 1925 with the League of Nations Geneva International Convention on Narcotic Control. It has been targeted aggressively since then on and off.
Law enforcers appear to treat tourists with respect since they know that they bring in the money, according to MarijuanaTravels. However, this doesn’t make tourists immune to arrest.
In the cities and all over Gabon, marijuana is illegal and so are activities related to it. For possession, selling, smoking, importation and exportation, the penalty is from six months to two years and a fine. Growing marijuana is prohibited and anyone found cultivating commercial quantities and even a few plants will be penalized.
Like other countries, some police are tolerant while others are stringent in implementing the law. Marijuana is widely available in Gabon and grows abundantly in seven out of nine provinces, not just for commercial purposes but for traditional use as well.
Police checkpoints and road blocks are common in Gabon. According to some reports, 90 percent of arrests are due offenses related to marijuana.
In Kenya marijuana is unlawful. and fines are expensive. Due to anti-corruption laws, kickbacks are on a sliding scale unfavorable to foreigners, Indians, whites and the wealthy, according to MarijuanaTravels. Possession of a small quantity of dry cannabis leaves can lead to a detention center.
The Rwandan Ministry of Health is moving to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, according to the Rwandan newspaper New Times. Marijuana is illegal in Rwanda and so are related activities including smoking, possession, growing, selling and trafficking. Anyone violating the law may be fined, imprisoned or both.
Marijuana abuse is becoming a problem in Rwanda. Authorities have intensified their efforts to fight the increasing problems, using sniffer dogs to detect pot. Regional police are doing random roadside checkpoints.
Campaigns against marijuana abuse are being organized in schools.
Marijuana dealers are predominantly women.
According to the director of Anti-Narcotics at Rwanda National Police, the country is not a supplier of marijuana but a market.
Marijuana smoking is common among unemployed Tanzanian teenagers in the cities and rural farmers grow it. In Northern Tanzania, marijuana plantations have been profitable. Marijuana is called “bhang.” According to anti-narcotic officials of Tanzanian, the country has been ranked No. 3 for use of cannabis sativa in the world.
Zambia is the world’s third largest marijuana-smoking country by population, according to the 2014 World Drug Report, LusakaVoice reports.
Smoking marijuana is illegal in Zambia and any violation is punishable but a lot of people still smoke, especially in depressed areas of the country. The laws apply to the entire country but implementation is a bit lax, especially for locals.
Police do not seem to care much about the use of marijuana, but are stricter with those below 18 years old.
All activities related to marijuana are illegal in Ghana. The police are more focused on traffic problems, however. This means that the clubs and other public locations are not really closely monitored. However, there are still some security personnel inside clubs and bars.
The use of cannabis in Uganda is illegal and that includes any activities relating to it. There have been petitions filed by the locals and farmers to make the use of cannabis legal but there has been no action or response from the government.
The police in Uganda have raided farmers. Despite intolerance when it comes to cannabis growers, smokers are very abundant in Kampala and other areas in Uganda.
Marijuana is illegal in Botswana and if cannabis is seen in your possession, penalties will be imposed. Fines may be enforced and possible jail time of six months or more, depending on the violation.
Having said that, implementation of the law against marijuana use in Botswana is not stiff. Police are easy to bribe.
“Dagga” or “motokwane” is the common term used for marijuana in Botswana. This term is also commonly used in South Africa and by Swazi farmers.
In the Kingdom of Morocco; marijuana, cannabis and all business or activities associated with it are illegal. Smoking, buying, selling and distributing could carry a sentence of 10 years. Marijuana and tourism are both very big business here so the police won’t want to bother tourists too much. Their money is so important to the economy.
The police presence in Morocco can be either very vigilant or comically lax depending on the area, current political situations and the attitude of the local police chief.
Marijuana in Morocco is called “rif.”
Anyone found in possession of cannabis can face jail detention, but that doesn’t stop people from smoking in Namibia. The law implies that cannabis should not be smoked anywhere — indoors or out. Generally, no one is excused regardless of language, race or creed.
In reality enforcement is weak, according to MarijuanaTravels.
Marijuana is illegal in Nigeria. If you get caught trafficking, purchasing, using and cultivating, there are punishments. However, Nigerians export marijuana to other countries including Niger.
The police here are corrupt and can be bribed, according to MarijuanaTravels. Tourists can become targets of dealers and have been known to get ripped off.
Possession of cannabis in South Africa is illegal. This includes using, cultivating and trafficking marijuana. In the event that you get caught with a small amount, it will be confiscated and you will have to pay a fine.
Tourists and users are not currently being targeted by the police. They are after marijuana producers and dealers, and people using crystal meth, according to MarijuanaTravels.
In South Africa, a lot of marijuana is sold by Nigerians and Rastas. Nigerian marijuana sellers are often refugees in South Africa working without permits.
The use of cannabis or any other related activities is illegal in Ethiopia. Despite being the spiritual home of the Rastafari movement, possession of cannabis can result in up to six months imprisonment, according to MarijuanaTravels.
Rastafari is an Africa-centered religion that developed in Jamaica in the 1930s after Haile Selassie I became king of Ethiopia in 1930.
Rastafarians worship Selassie based on the words of black consciousness leader Marcus Garvey, who said in 1920, “Look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand,” BBC reports. When Selassie was crowned emperor 10 years later, many thought Garvey’s prediction had come true.
Marijuana or ganja is considered a herb of religious significance for Rastafarians, who sometimes refer to it as the holy herb or wisdom weed.
Regardless of the laws, Ethiopian police are not that diligent when it comes to enforcement of marijuana laws, according to MarijuanaTravels.
Cannabis is very abundant in Ethiopia but the country lacks cigarette papers and blunts, according to MarijuanaTravels.