Zambia has the third highest number of cannabis users (per capita) in the world, but has some of the harshest laws in the world. Even being caught with 0.5 grams carries a prison sentence, and an arrest for trafficking can result in up to 25 years in prison. However, some prominent figures are calling for its legalization.
Can you possess and use cannabis in Zambia?
It is illegal to possess and use cannabis in Zambia, and violators face serious penalties even if they have only a small amount of the drug in their possession. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act states that anyone who «has in his possession or control any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance shall be (…) punished on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years».
With regard to use, if a person is caught in the process of «sniffing, chewing, drinking or in any other way consuming such drug or substance», he or she faces imprisonment of up to 10 years.
The Dangerous Drugs Act also indicates that a person who allows their premises to be used «for smoking cannabis» is also considered a criminal. Moreover, possession of tools or equipment used in the use of cannabis (e.g. bongs) is also a criminal offense. If criminals are apprehended, they can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
While the government has largely opposed cannabis, some leading politicians have spoken out about the benefits of legalizing it. One prominent example is Peter Sinkamba, who, representing the Green Party, ran for president in 2014.
He highlighted the environmental and economic benefits of legalizing the drug, stressing that «it is massively grown all over the country for the black market (…) So, we are saying: let’s get out of this and legalize it».
Can you sell cannabis in Zambia?
The sale or supply of cannabis in Zambia is a serious offense under Zambian law. Under Zambian law, anyone caught trafficking in psychotropic substances can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 25 years. If a person is caught at the border attempting to import or export cannabis, the maximum sentence is 20 years. These sentences are strict, but this does not stop drug traffickers from continuing their illegal activities in the country. For example, in 2019, two people were arrested for selling more than a ton of cannabis in the Lumezi district.
Is it possible to grow cannabis in Zambia?
Growing cannabis is also a crime in Zambia unless the farmer has a special license from the relevant authorities. If arrested for growing cannabis, the offender can be fined «not less than five hundred penalty units» or sentenced to imprisonment for up to 10 years.
Despite these strict penalties, cannabis cultivation is fairly common in the country. Zambia is a poor country and the market price of cannabis is significantly higher than that of other crops such as sorghum or rice. Lack of police funding allows farmers to engage in illicit cannabis cultivation relatively freely without risk of detection. Arrests do occur, but are relatively rare.
Is CBD legal in Zambia?
There is no official law in Zambia regarding the legal status of CBD. As it is not specifically distinguished from cannabis, its use, purchase or sale is illegal in the country, even if it is used for medical purposes.
Medicinal cannabis in Zambia
In 1993, the Government of Zambia authorized the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes, but to date it has not issued any licenses to cannabis producers. Because of that, the potential for the development of the industry in the country remains unrealized.
The future of the medical cannabis industry in Zambia is in jeopardy. In 2018, Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufya stated that the government has no plans to issue licenses in the future. A year earlier, Minister Kampyongo noted that legalizing medical cannabis would only increase its smokable use.
Together with the continued stigmatization of cannabis, this creates little likelihood of the Zambian population having access to medical cannabis-based products in the near future.
However, there are signs to contradict this. Chilufya has assembled a team to travel to other countries that produce medical cannabis. So far, the team has not provided an update on their findings, but if their experience turns out to be positive, it could create an opportunity for the medical cannabis industry in Zambia going forward.
Some are puzzled by Chilufya’s statements about health conditions that can be treated with cannabis, such as chronic pain, nausea and vomiting (such as after chemotherapy), loss of appetite due to certain health conditions, epilepsy, glaucoma, and others.
While some politicians in Zambia oppose the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes, other influential individuals have expressed their views on its benefits. For example, the president of the Zambia Medical Association, Dr. Aaron Mujajati, stated in 2017, «Medical cannabis works. I’m not an economist, so I can’t speak intelligently about the economic benefits. Risk can be managed; medical cannabis can be legalized».
In a similar vein, National Recovery Party spokesperson, Bwalya Nondo, noted that the legalization of medical cannabis has long been needed.
Industrial cannabis in Zambia
Growing hemp is illegal in Zambia, as the plant is not unlike cannabis. However, in 2018, the Lusaka Times published an article on the U.S. Farm Bill (which legalized hemp cultivation at the federal level) and highlighted the crop’s lucrative potential.
Given that Zambia is a poor country, hemp as a legal crop could help the economy and provide farmers with a legal alternative to growing cannabis. However, the government has given no indication that hemp laws will change anytime soon.
Interesting and important info
If you are traveling to Zambia (or currently living there), you may be interested in the following:
- According to the World Health Organization report on drug use in 2014, Zambia is the third largest cannabis user in the world. Approximately 18.3% of the country’s population uses the substance. That figure is exceeded only by Iceland and Nigeria.
- Cannabis legislation in Zambia is known for its strictness. Prison sentences are provided for offenses involving the discovery of the presence of more than 0.5 grams of the substance. Tourists should note that the use of dimedrol is also illegal. It is the active ingredient in the drug Benadryl, which is used to treat coughs.
- Most cannabis farms in Zambia are small, but in recent years there has been an increase in the number of commercial enterprises in this area. The main areas where cannabis is cultivated include Chiundaponde and Muwele (Northern Province), and Lubunga and Kamwendo (North-Western Province).
The history of cannabis in Zambia
Cannabis, a plant that is not native to Africa and it is not known exactly how or when it arrived on the continent. It is assumed that Arab or Asian traders brought it to the continent several centuries ago.
The first cannabis provisions were discovered in Ethiopia by archaeologists who found two smoking pipe bowls with traces of the plant dating back to the fourteenth century. It is likely that the plant spread to other parts of the continent, such as Zambia, through Bantu-speaking tribes who were predominantly nomadic.
One thing we can tell from the arrival of cannabis in Africa is that the plant grew vigorously in the warm climate. Leading researcher David Livingstone observed that “the plant was widely used by all the tribes of the interior”, including Zambia.
Countries like Zambia later brought cannabis to Brazil through the slave trade. From there, the plant spread to the western coasts of the continent, and slaves taken to South America carried cannabis with them; it is often smuggled in rag dolls.
Cannabis continues to be an important crop for the people of Africa, and today it is the most widely used drug. The local sativa varieties of the plant are well known in the region and resemble the famous Malawi variety in appearance and effect.
At this point, it is difficult to predict whether the cannabis laws in Zambia will be amended. It is possible that the government is considering options for medical cannabis, which may be justified. Additionally, if industrial hemp is legalized, it could be a source of revenue for the country’s ailing economy.
However, it is unlikely that recreational cannabis use will be allowed anytime soon. The impact of other African countries, such as South Africa, that decriminalize cannabis use could influence the Zambian government to make such a change in the future.