- On 22 February 2020, the Malawi Parliament passed a bill for the legalisation of medical cannabis in the country.
- When this bill finally comes into effect, growing and processing cannabis will become legal in this African country, as long as cannabis crops are aimed at medicine or vegetable fibre production. In addition, people authorised by the Cannabis Regulatory Authority (CRA) will be allowed to consume cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
Malawi has taken another step forward towards cannabis legalisation. Up until this year, industrial hemp cultivation for vegetable fibre production was already legal in this country in Africa's South East. But earlier in 2020 the Malawi Parliament approved the legalisation of cannabis for therapeutic use. The bill presented on 27 February in the Malawi Chamber, by the Agriculture Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa, not only included issues regarding cannabis production and distribution, but also matters concerning patients and users.
Therefore, the foundations have already been laid for medical cannabis legalisation to become a reality in the country. This bill proposes the creation of a Cannabis Regulatory Authority that will supervise cannabis production and consumption, as well as a state registry of patients who use medical cannabis, and even a provision of sanctions for non-compliance with the law.
Let's now have a look at this bill's key points.
Malawi's cannabis tradition: 'chamba' and industrial hemp
Malawi is a country with a long cannabis tradition. On the one hand, we have what is known in Malawi as 'chamba': cannabis illegally grown for recreational use, which is known internationally as 'Malawi Gold'. In contrast with its neighbouring countries, there are no gold mines in Malawi, but chamba growing in rural areas is a vital source of income for many families; hence its name that makes reference to this precious metal.
But apart from this illegal cannabis market, this African country has already been shaping a legal industry around the Sativa plant over the last few decades. Before this bill was approved, industrial hemp cultivation was already legal in the country, and in fact several companies in Malawi have already been producing hemp fibre for almost a decade. They have even created the Industrial Crops Association (ICA), an organisation that promotes hemp growing and has managed to lobby the Malawi government towards the legalisation of cannabis.
Up until now legislation did not contemplate the consumption of cannabis. Malawi firms such as Ikaros Africa or Invergrow focused exclusively on hemp cultivation for vegetable fibre production. Nonetheless, the Government already granted some licences in 2015 for cannabis and cannabinoid research. As a matter of fact, according to these companies' websites, we can clearly see that they do much more with their crops than only producing plant fibre: they also produce hemp-based food supplements, tinctures and oils, and cosmetic products. What's more, both these firms have departments solely dedicated to research on cannabinoids and even CBD extraction.
So how does the new bill contribute to Malawi's recent cannabis history? For the first time, state legislation regarding the Sativa plant includes medical cannabis patients.
Summary of Bill No. 5 regarding cannabis regulation in Malawi
Bill No. 5 regarding cannabis regulation in Malawi, presented by the Agriculture Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa at Malawi's Parliament on 27 February 2020, focuses on the creation of a Cannabis Regulatory Authority (CRA). The CRA will be responsible for licensing legal cannabis cultivation, for supervising compliance with the regulations, and for the correct distribution of medical cannabis to patients, amongst other key points which include:
- The creation of a Cannabis Regulatory Authority (CRA) responsible for licensing and regulating industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis programmes.
- The CRA will grant licences to cultivate, process, store, sell, export, and distribute cannabis.
- Exporting cannabis will require a licence.
- The CRA will also grant permits to conduct scientific research programmes on cannabis.
- Licencees will be required to comply with CRA's security measures regarding cultivation, processing, storage, sale, exportation, and distribution of cannabis.
- Cannabis will also be grown under strict production practices, among them non-involvement of children, preservation of the natural environment, and compliance with quality standards regarding soil, fertilisers, and pesticides used in the crops.
- Qualified patients in the medicinal cannabis programme will be issued Registry Identification Cards.
- The CRA will appoint inspectors to check compliance and enforcement of the Cannabis Regulation law.
- The distribution of cannabis to patients will take place in the presence of Malawi's inspectors and police officers.
- Cultivating, processing, or distributing cannabis in contravention of the law will be an offence liable to financial sanctions and to imprisonment for up to 25 years.
- Refusing to produce the documentation required to enter the medical cannabis programme or making false statements will be an offence liable to financial sanctions and imprisonment for up to five years.