The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) World Drug Reports of 2006 and 2007 report that the African continent has the highest global levels of cannabis production. It estimated the figure to 10,500 tonnes: about 25% of production worldwide.
The report also states that roughly 7.7% of the adult population [aged between 15-64] in the continent consumes the drug annually with West and Central Africa having the highest consumption rates followed by Southern Africa. Further, the largest cannabis seizures, second to North America were made in South Africa, Tanzania and Nigeria respectively. The report also notes that production of the cannabis resin (pressed sections of the plant known as hashish in the West) is more geographically concentrated than that of herbal cannabis (known as marijuana comprising of the “leaves and flowering tops of the plant” [UNODC Cannabis in Africa, 2007 Report]).
Legal marijuana is expanding with many more countries open to the notion of using the drug for medicinal purposes. Cannabis can be inhaled, eaten, smoked and consumed as an oil. The oil form is most convenient for children using it as medication. The cannabidiol (CBD) contained in cannabis does not have the intoxicating effects caused by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, which is found in marijuana) and has been found to have antipsychotic effects in humans. Studies are currently underway examining its effective used to treat addiction and more states have recognised its effective use in treating seizures, specifically, in epilepsy patients. With an increased interest in cannabis for medical purposes and a fast-growing market for legal cannabis Africa stands to greatly profit from cashing in on the cannabis market.
Many African governments are yet to follow the trend of legalising cannabis from fears of uncontrolled recreational use. This could lead to a potential drug crisis. Lesotho, a southern African state, was reported by the United Nations in 1999 to grow the plant “almost everywhere in the country." It has taken the lead in being the first African state to license the cultivation, manufacture, supply, export and transport of cannabis to a South African alternative medicine company- Verve Dynamics. The company expects its main markets to be North American and European states legally allowed to purchase the product. Richard Davies, Verve Dynamics’ Managing Director, advocates for the legalisation of medical cannabis proposing strict controls to avoid abuse. He states “medicinal cannabis can be thought as the gold rush of our time. Africa can be at the forefront of this industry”.