On February 28th, 2020, Malawi signed a bill that legalizes cultivation of cannabis for medicinal, industrial and exportation purposes. The bill became law in the context of the national administration’s effort to find an alternative to the tobacco crop. Being tobacco the most exported Malawian good, the rise of anti-smoking campaigns jeopardized the nation’s wealth, which decided to seek for an alternative. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, legalization of this crop is thus oriented towards diversifying the country’s portfolio of exports, ultimately aiming to boost the country’s economy in this time of uncertainty.
Rastafarians in the country have been openly campaigning for awareness about cannabis-related benefit and for cannabis legalization for more than 25 years, since the conclusion of the 28-years-long one-party government led by the Malawi Congress Party. Hemp and cannabis have been continuatively grown in the most remote parts of the country, for the purpose of national or international drug trafficking. Police efforts were never successful enough to make the phenomenon disappear. In 2015, the Malawian government showed its first opening towards the matter of legalization, issuing permits for scientific research of hemp cultivation to two firms. One of these firms is Invegrow which, after having worked with processed hemp products like paper for the last five years, is now looking at working together with the government in researching local cultivars (so-called ‘landraces’), since the low-THC hemp seeds that the firm worked with before were imported. Invegrow, part of the Malawi Hemp Association, contributed to the policy discussions that shaped the content of the bill.
Ironically enough, during the time in which the bill was being discussed by lawmakers, the police department of the town of Nkhotakota was burning down three tons of cannabis seized in operations that took place during 2019. This just adds to the evidence that made regulation seem like a better option than repression. Now, with the passing of this bill the country will also see the birth of the Cannabis Regulatory Authority, an institution in charge of granting licenses for cultivation, processing, storage, sale and exportation of cannabis products, as well as of issuing permits for scientific research to the suitable organizations.
Yet, the industry should not get over-excited. While the current Malawian framework is good news for hemp and CBD entrepreneurs, who will be allowed to produce, process and distribute hemp biomass and hemp-based products like CBD, cannabis for recreational use remains, as of now, illegal. The unauthorized cultivation, processing and distribution of cannabis can cost people 25-years sentences and fines nearing $70.000. Furthermore, the bill for legalizing cannabis was strongly countered by religious organizations and conservatives across the country. Therefore, investors should not be looking at the country with the same hopes the U.S. green rush gave them; nonetheless, Malawi does now represent a fertile field in terms business opportunities for certain segments of the cannabis and hemp industry.
Source: The Guardian
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