It is time Malawi took drastic and holistic approaches to addressing its economic concerns. The falling tobacco prices on the international market have been a major reason for forex scarcity. At the current trajectory, the cycle of poverty has no end in sight.
Legalising cultivation of cannabis was one option. The newly enacted law grants licences which allow cannabis cultivation and processing, storing, selling, exporting, distribution and permits to conduct scientific research. The Act prescribes a licence fee of about K10 million for cultivation and processing of medicinal cannabis and K2 million for the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp. These costs ultimately make the crop an elite product. It disfranchises and economically excludes poor Malawians from the lucrative trade.
What remains for the poor Malawian farmer is to join cooperatives and supply the green gold to a few greedy companies who have buyers talking to them alone. This is but a repeat of the tobacco story and it does not have a good ending. The objective to legalise chamba was not to caress the ego of foreign companies exploiting locals while masquerading as investors. Chamba has been a commodity of trade and use in the country for much longer than the Cannabis Act. The crop’s potential to do well on the international market does not need sugar-coating from any clever pirate. Malawi produces one of the finest cannabis sativa. That is where we should start—harnessing its potential.
At this rate, we will not have learnt any lesson yet from the tobacco fiasco that has only managed to keep poor farmers poorer and tobacco companies richer. If Malawi as a country is trying to diversify from tobacco to cannabis, then eliminate the broker between buyers and grower.
Malawi’s chamba is internationally acclaimed for medicinal and recreational purposes and is dubbed Malawi Gold. However, the Act criminalises the cultivation of recreational cannabis. Medicinal cannabis requires a pharmaceutical approach where every process is tracked and traced and requires testing for heavy metals and impurities. This requires laboratories and professional expertise, hence sells highly on the market. Malawi should, therefore, consider investing in laboratories and industries to process cannabis rather than building houses for members of Parliament.
Industrial cannabis may be an easy grow for the Malawian farmer, but fetches less on the market. What cultivates easily without testing requirements but sells the highest is recreational cannabis. It is the country’s biggest illegal export.
Malawi should legalise cannabis for recreational use. Open up to supply and demand rule where Malawian growers are allowed to cultivate cannabis freely without licences. Government must play an active role in supporting the industry through research, infrastructure, allowing incentives and finding markets.
Foreign investors must choose to invest in one sector. There should never be a situation where the same investor is a grower, processor, researcher and an exporter. That is monopolistic.
Malawi cannot create an industry just to benefit a few people, let alone enact laws that benefit a few. It is against the social contract that seeks to harmonise and delegate government to work in the best interests of all people. Policies should inform and avail equal access to economic opportunities through conducive policies and actions for development and self-actualisation to avoid civil dissonance. It is not enough to give people their right to vote if you cannot give them economic freedom as that voice is nothing if they are not economically independent.
Why should we create laws that cushion a few rich to economically benefit and yet criminalise the poor for trying to benefit from the same? Policies and laws are meant to address existing problems generally affecting or benefitting the society. This is socially incorrect and injustice for a democratic and pluralistic nation. It limits and confronts advocacy for laissez-faire. The practice of cultivation and trading in cannabis exists regardless of the law. Criminalisation is partial.
A cannabis grower in America or South Africa is buying his mother her first home from the trade. Here in Malawi, a woman is hopeless, her young son was sentenced to eight years for selling cannabis to pull them out of poverty. A man walks free, he ably paid a K1 million fine for illegally cultivating cannabis. Yet another in the name of being an investor walks freely because he can afford a K10 million license to cultivate cannabis. Out there, countries are investing on cannabis returns while Malawi clings to old practices.