Zambia, a gem of southern Africa, is a marvelous landlocked country known for its mesmerizing scenic beauty and thriving copper industry. It’s also globally known for its Victoria Falls — one of the world’s biggest cascades, situated on the border it shares with Zimbabwe. Besides being rich in minerals like copper, gold, uranium, emeralds, and cobalt, Zambia has also emerged as an interesting player in the cannabis scene.
The Genesis of a Legal Cannabis Industry
In 2021, Zambia legalized cannabis, sharply focussing on its production, strictly confined to being for medical and export purposes. The supervision of cannabis cultivation in Zambia is the responsibility of the Zambia National Service, while the Ministry of Health has the authority to issue licenses for cannabis cultivation and trading.
On the commercial front, any entities interested in participating in Zambia’s cannabis market need to win a bid to obtain a marijuana cultivation and sales license. This license levies an annual fee of $250,000.
Unraveling the Legal Framework
The government of Zambia brought two legislative acts into effect: the Cannabis Act, 2021, and the Industrial Hemp Act, 2021. This move was fueled by a previous cabinet decision in 2019 that permitted the production and export of cannabis for medical and export uses — a strategic move to alleviate the fiscal deficit and burgeoning debt burden.
Cannabis Act of Zambia
The Cannabis Act is a gateway for entities to engage in licensed operations relative to the growth, production, storage, distribution, import, and export of cannabis intended for medicinal, research, or scientific purposes. Schools, parks, libraries, and drug abuse treatment centers must all be located beyond a 15.5-mile radius from any such operations. Cannabis plants containing less than or equal to 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Cannabis Act and are instead regulated under the Industrial Hemp Act.
Industrial Hemp Act of Zambia
Similar to the Cannabis Act, the Industrial Hemp Act green-lights licensed operations pertaining to industrial hemp cultivation, processing, distribution, buying, export, and research. Industrial hemp, defined by this act, refers to any byproduct or part of a cannabis plant with a THC concentration less than or equal to 0.3% on a dry weight basis. The act strictly prohibits the co-cultivation of cannabis and industrial hemp.
The Illegality of Recreational Cannabis
Recreational use of cannabis in Zambia is sternly dealt with under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 2021. The law, carrying hefty fines, bans possession without proper authorization. The trafficking of marijuana warrants severe penalties.
According to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, possession, or control of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance without authorization could result in up to 15 years of incarceration. Illicit cannabis use could lead to a prison sentence extending up to 10 years.
The Dangerous Drugs Act labels the act of permitting premises to be used as a spot for smoking cannabis a criminal offense. Possessing instruments or devices used for cannabis consumption is also considered a criminal offense, with potential penalties of up to 10 years of imprisonment.
The Zambian administration mainly upholds an anti-cannabis stance. However, there have been traces of advocacy for cannabis legalization from influential political characters. One such individual is Peter Sinkamba, who ran for the presidency in 2014 under the Green Party’s banner. Sinkamba strongly propounded that legalizing cannabis could be a solution to dealing with the black market since cannabis is illicitly cultivated widely across the country, besides contributing to environmental and economic benefits.
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