Image: 123RF/ Nils Weymann
Image: 123RF/ Nils Weymann

Blantyre — Malawi has become the latest country in southern African to relax laws against growing and selling cannabis, making it legal for use in the production of medicines and hemp fibres used in industry.

Malawi’s parliament passed a bill on Thursday that makes it legal to cultivate and process cannabis for those two uses, but stops short of decriminalising recreational use. Agriculture minister Kondwani Nankhumwa tabled the bill.

More and more countries are legalising cannabis use or relaxed laws on cannabis, also known as dagga, as attitudes towards the drug change.

The countries include several in Southern Africa, most recently Zambia, which in December legalised production for export. They follow Lesotho, which became the first country in the region to legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2017 and Zimbabwe. SA meanwhile has decriminalised domestic personal use, and is lifting a ban on commercial cultivation of the plant.

“We are very happy that finally we're taking the right steps to move the country’s economy forwards,” said Chauncy Jere, a director of Ikaros Africa, one of the two companies conducting industrial hemp trials in central Malawi.

“There's no denying that cannabis would be a lucrative industry. Its demand is huge,” said Jere, spokesperson for the Hemp Association of Malawi.

Tobacco, a drug scientists say is far more addictive and ruinous to health than cannabis, has been Malawi’s chief foreign currency earner since independence from Britain in 1964.