The East African Community could become a mass producer of medical cannabis for export to fast-growing markets in the West.
This is after Rwanda on October 12 became the latest EAC partner state to approve medical cannabis production for export, following closely in the footsteps of Uganda.
Tanzania and Kenya, which produce the largest amounts of cannabis in the region, are yet to legalize the commodity and so it is exported illegally.
Rwanda government officials said the decision to legalize the export of medical marijuana was based on the revenue potential for the country.
«Some of these therapeutic crops can fetch around $10 million per hectare of production. Flowers fetch about $300,000 from one hectare, so economically it is a potentially good business for the country,» Clare Akamanzi, CEO of Rwanda Development Board said on Rwanda Broadcasting Agency.
In the region, Uganda has the most advanced guidelines for the production and export of medical cannabis, although it remains illegal in the country.
Uganda approved the guidelines for farming cannabis, requiring investors to have a minimum capital of $5 million as capital and a bank guarantee of $1 million to get authorization to farm and export cannabis.
The country also secured buyers in Germany and Canada, while the European Union approved the country’s cannabis exports in 2019.
The Ugandan government in 2018 spent about $264,000 on the importation of quality cannabis seeds.
The country first registered a cannabis firm in 2012 — Industrial Hemp Uganda Ltd — to grow and develop cannabis exports.
Kenya has had hushed debates for decades over whether to legalize marijuana.
In 2018, former Kibra MP the late Ken Okoth tabled a Marijuana Control Bill in the National Assembly, for medical reasons. At the time, South Africa became the third country in Africa to legalize cannabis after Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
The Marijuana Control Bill 2018 sought to stop the decriminalization of handling of weed as well as amnesty for those prosecuted for using or growing the plant. The proposed law also sought the proper regulation of the marijuana farming sector, arguing that the law would cater for the growers, traders and protecting minors once it was in place.
Although Tanzania has some of the strictest laws against cannabis and other illicit drugs in the region, the country is estimated to be one of the leading producers and exporters of cannabis products in Africa.
Researchers say that illicit drugs use is an increasing problem in the region, particularly for the youth.
In a 2018 concept paper titled Drug Use As A Hindrance To Socio-Economic Development In Rwanda, researcher Gonzague Isirabahenda said that illicit drug use is one of the biggest challenges facing young people in Rwanda.
«A big number of these young people eventually get addicted posing a threat to their own health and safety, while creating difficulties for their families and the public,» he said.
The UN estimates that around 38,000 tons of cannabis worth billions of dollars are produced annually in Africa and sold in the black market.