Malawi pins hopes on gold standard of cannabis PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 05 December 2020 08:14,the%20finest%E2%80%9D%20grows%20with%20abandon


Malawi pins hopes on gold standard of cannabis


Jane Flanagan 01/12/2020


In the lush hills of one of the poorest nations in the world, a strain of cannabis whose potency even ranks at the World Bank as “the finest” grows with abandon.


Revered among purists as a potent marijuana nirvana, a micro-tourism industry has sprung up around so-called Malawi Gold. Known locally as chamba, the strain has reached cult status with blogs and websites devoted it.


The government of the southern African state is now hoping that its fast-growing weed will help its population out of poverty. The former British colony has joined its regional neighbours in decriminalising cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.


A company founded by Tanya Clarke, a British entrepreneur, established the first government trials on industrial hemp that formulated the government’s decision. She believes the law change will bring in much needed investment and create jobs, but leaders in the conservative, Christian country took some convincing.


Ms Clarke, who moved to Malawi after studying at Edinburgh University 14 years ago, said even the word “cannabis” provokes panic and associations with drug addiction and social mores.


“We found the term industrial hemp caused less alarm to describe the industrial applications of the plant,’’ she told The Times. In meetings with political and community leaders, she drew on the Bible’s references to plants and vegetation, in the book of Genesis, to argue that Malawi’s natural resources had a higher purpose. Cannabis thrives in Malawi’s climate, even during periods of drought.


New laws will enable Ms Clarke’s company, Invegrow, to legally investigate what it is about Malawi Gold that has made it one of the most psychoactive pure African sativas. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the only psychoactive element in the plant. Plants up to one per cent THC cannabis have been legalised for cultivation.


Malawi joins Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Lesotho in legalising industrial hemp, though South Africa went a step further in 2018 by decriminalising recreational use of cannabis. Lobbyists have long claimed cultivating cannabis would boost Malawi’s economy and plug the gap left by a drop in demand for tobacco. Eighty per cent of Malawi’s workforce are employed in agriculture. Tobacco accounts for 60 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and 13 per cent of its GDP.


Boniface Kadzamira, a politician who first campaigned for decriminalisation in 2015, said the cannabis industry would give Malawians the opportunity to process their own product and set their own standard.


“We don’t want to replicate what has happened in the tobacco industry. Malawians should participate, not as tenants, but as equal partners in this new sector,” he said.


A new Cannabis Regularity Authority is now considering 100 applications for licensing. With fees ranging from $100 to $100,000, the agriculture ministry said it wanted to draw a range of small and large-scale operators. Although Africans have been smoking marijuana for centuries — traces have been found on 14th-century pipes in Ethiopia — shifting attitudes towards legalising the plant have only come as the appetite for cannabis products in rich countries has mushroomed.


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