Seeking to bolster revenue and exports, Zimbabwe will repeal its laws that prohibit the production of cannabis.
The announcement came Tuesday from the country’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, who said that the reform will allow farmers to grow industrial hemp to export. Ultimately, the goal is for hemp to replace tobacco as the southern Africa nation’s leading crop export.
With global tobacco sales slumping from decades of health campaigns and the recent rise of vaping products—combined with the worldwide rollbacks on prohibitions against cannabis and hemp—the change to the laws is a signal that Zimbabwe is looking toward the future.
Mutsvangwa told members of the press gathered in the capital city of Harare, as quoted by Bloomberg, that “the crop can be a good substitute to the leading export crop, tobacco, which is at risk of being banned globally.”
Zimbabwe is mired in one of the deepest economic crises the country has seen in decades, with staggering inflation on food and devastating drought leaving millions hungry. A report from the United Nations last month found that more than a third of households in rural Zimbabwe—amounting to about 3.5 million people—are “dangerously food insecure.”
By early 2020, the report said, 59 percent of rural households, or more than 5.5 million people, will be food insecure.
That crisis has coincided with Zimbabwe’s rollback of anti-cannabis laws, as the cash-strapped and conservative country continues to reconsider its prohibition. In the spring of last year, Zimbabwe became only the second African country to legalize marijuana for medical purposes (Lesotho, the tiny landlocked nation encircled by South Africa, became the first in 2017). But government officials continue to work out regulatory barriers.
Last year, only a month after announcing the new law on medical cannabis, Zimbabwe hit the brakes on its implementation as it worked to comply with a number of United Nations treaties.
Mutsvangwa told reporters on Tuesday that medical marijuana “will take a long time to set up structures.”
In March, Zimbabwe approved the first license for a private cannabis company, Precision Cannabis Therapeutics Zimbabwe, to produce medical marijuana under the country’s new law. As of February, the Zimbabwe government had reportedly received applications from 37 companies to produce cannabis, a number it hopes will only grow.
“The government of Zimbabwe is open for business and welcomes investors in all sectors of the economy, including licensing for the production of medical cannabis,” said Nathan Emery, the chief operating officer of Precision Cannabis Therapeutics Zimbabwe.