Malawi has become the latest African country to legalize medical cannabis production in a bid to gain an economic boost.

Parliament passed the Cannabis Regulation Bill on Thursday, legalizing cannabis cultivation for medicinal purposes and hemp production for industrial purposes. Agriculture Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa introduced the bill to help diversify the economy and boost Malawi’s economy at a time when global tobacco consumption is dwindling.

The new law created the Malawi Cannabis Regulatory Authority, which is now tasked with licensing and regulating the medicinal cannabis sector.

It will grant licenses to cultivate, process, store, sell, export, and distribute cannabis. The CRA can also hand out permits to scientific researchers that want to broaden the country’s knowledge of the plant and its medicinal properties.

Malawi follows Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Zambia in legalizing medicinal cannabis cultivation. South Africa has decriminalized recreational marijuana use, and President Cyril Ramaphosa has now pledged to bolster the country’s legal medicinal cannabis industry.

Malawi borders Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. It has an estimated population of 18 million, and agriculture employs almost 80% of them.

Tobacco is the main export product, but the global decline in consumption rates has hit the Malawian economy. Campaigners have called on the government to ensure that the nascent cannabis industry does not become marred by the sort of exploitation seen in the country’s tobacco trade.

Malawians want to be treated as equal partners in the new marijuana export industry, rather than controlled by major conglomerates.

A person working in Malawi typically earns less than $300 per month. Even if that increases, labour costs should still be far lower in Malawi than in countries like Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands, which are all exporting cannabis.

It could also produce cannabis cheaper than Latin America, the Caribbean, and Thailand. It should benefit from excellent growing conditions and the existing skills in growing tobacco, so it could become a major player in the global export trade.

“We are very happy that finally we’re taking the right steps to move the country’s economy forwards,” Chauncy Jere, a director of Ikaros Africa, one of the two companies conducting industrial hemp trials in Central Malawi, told Reuters. “There’s no denying that cannabis would be a lucrative industry and its demand is huge.”

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