African County of Eswatini Introduces Medical Cannabis Legislation

African County of Eswatini Introduces Medical Cannabis Legislation

The landlocked country of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), located in southern Africa, recently made a move to legalize medical cannabis.

According to a report from VOA Zimbabwe, King Mswati III and the Eswatini government have introduced medical cannabis legislation hoping that it will help curb illegal sales and allow the country to benefit from tax revenue. “The legislation will also provide measures to guard against increasing the black market,” said spokesperson Alpheous Nxumalo. “This has robbed government taxes, Eswatini, an opportunity to grow their economy and robbed even the farmers themselves who have been trying to make a living using this cannabis. We look forward to the unbanning of the cannabis plant as an opportunity to develop the country, our economy and to empower Eswatini themselves.”

Currently only one company, Profile Solutions, has been approved to be a legal cannabis cultivator in Eswatini.

If medical cannabis is legalized in the country, it would amend a statue that was implemented by the British in 1922 through the Opium and Habit-forming Drugs Act. British control over Eswatini lasted from 1903-1968, but the country’s name of Swaziland wasn’t changed to its current name until 2018.

VOA Zimbabwe obtained a statement from Dr. Thys Louren, a medical practitioner with Occupational Health Eswatini, who believes that medical cannabis legalization would provide a multitude of benefits for the country. “I stand here urging for the transformative change of Eswatini’s health care landscape toward a healthier and more sustainable Eswatini,” Louren said. “It is not just a medical decision but a holistic solution for our patients, community and economy.”

The news outlet also spoke with Business Eswatini CEO E. Nathi Dlamini, who explained the necessity of bringing Eswatini up to speed with the global medical cannabis industry. “Many countries are well ahead in this regard in terms of developing industries to support investment, create jobs which by the way, we desperately need,” Dlamini said. “As Business Eswatini, we are very thankful that from the highest authority of the land now, we are beginning to be one-minded on this.”

Additionally, residents such as merchant Maqhawe Tsabedze admitted that he’s put his kids through school while thriving from illegal cannabis businesses. “The decriminalization of cannabis will help a lot and will perhaps stop police from raiding and confiscating our products, which we make a living from selling,” Tsavedze said. “Rain or sunshine, we make sure we put bread on the table so that our children do not go to bed on empty stomachs. Since there are no jobs, we make a living from selling cannabis on the streets.”

The medical cannabis legalization proposal has only been introduced, and requires a three-fourths vote in both the House of Assembly and Senate before it can be passed into law.

Previous attempts to get medical cannabis legalized in Eswatini have fallen short. One version was tabled by the Eswatini Ministry of Health in 2020, and resurfaced in May 2023, according to a report from Semafor Africa. The news outlet spoke with the Eswatini Cannabis Association (ESA) at the time, who explained that the proposed bill would establish a Medicines Regulatory Authority to “import, export, and trade in, by wholesale, cannabis and cannabis products.” “They cannot be both the referee and the player at the same time,” said ESA chair Saladin Magagula at the time. “You cannot as an authority give yourself an export and import license while also issuing the same to people.”

However, farmers who rely on illegally cultivating for their livelihood voiced concerns about legalization. “Lomtsetfo [the law’ might make things worse because the rich companies will become our competition,” said an anonymous farmer.

Eswatini is home to more than 1 million people, and a large percentage of which suffer from HIV/AIDS. In 2021, The Guardian covered how older women were illegally cultivating cannabis (called “Swazi Gold”) to help both their families as well as children who were orphaned as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “Poverty led me into this business,” one woman said. “There are no jobs. These children need to go to school but there is no help at all from government. I have to commit crime, farming weed, to ensure I take care of them. I had three children but they all passed away, leaving me with five grandchildren to care for. All my children were HIV positive and they died because of that. I also take care of two other children, relatives to my late husband, whose parents are also dead.”

The country was also the feature of a documentary by Strain Hunters in April 2013, which explored both the cannabis industry as well as genetics unique to the region.

Other countries in Africa have begun to embrace cannabis. Medical cannabis sales were approved back in July 2022 in Zimbabwe. Last November, the South African National Assembly approved a cannabis bill that decriminalized cannabis, but did not legalize sales. It does, however, allow residents to cultivate their own plants for personal use.

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