About eight years ago I traveled to the African Continent for the first time in order to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Every evening along the way to Uhuru Peak (the ‘top’ of Africa) I camped in designated areas. And every evening at those camps, dozens of the local porters/guides at the same camp got together, and consumed a lot of cannabis. The smell was unmistakable. These camps were very high in elevation; never less than 10,000 feet above sea level; some as high as 15,000 feet above sea level. One way or another, I became friendly with these groups of guides, and began to learn about their deep relationship with the cannabis plant. But where did they grow it? How did they grow it? My notions concerning many parts of Africa were based on what I had previously seen on television and in the movies. In other words, Africa is a hot dry place. How can one grow cannabis in an arid desert?
Of course, the African Continent is extremely large. And, of course, not all of it is arid desert. In fact, agriculture in Africa has a massive social and economic footprint. More than sixty percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is smallholder farmers, and about twenty-three percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture. Yet, Africa’s full agricultural potential remains untapped. In 2011, our law firm’s legal practice was devoted entirely to serving the brand-new cannabis economy, but in the U.S. only.
Who would have thought that I would be returning to Africa many times, many years later, to advise numerous African governments on creating/stabilizing their respective cannabis legislative and regulatory structures; and to bring along our clients as the first operators/licensees in this vast land? Despite our intimate relationships with numerous international governments concerning the development of cannabis policy over the years, I never envisioned returning to Africa for cannabis-related business.
Over the past several years, we have seen the foundational development of the global cannabis industry. We are not only developing successful, responsible business along the way, but we are building the global cannabis infrastructure–the global cannabis supply chain; one continent at a time; one country at a time.
While Canada and Uruguay (to a much smaller extent) have been leaders in cannabis commercialization and regulation for the global market over the past several years, the influence and impact of these countries on the global cannabis supply chain will more than likely be relegated to western hemisphere dominance only; this is dictated by simple economics. In other words, plant material needs to be produced at the lowest reasonable cost and in a location that is closest to the distribution markets (in order to eliminate/reduce the added cost of transportation). This is especially true as the market becomes stabilized.
As a result of these simple agronomic principles, numerous other low-cost, ag-rich countries have jumped on board in a big way. Look at Colombia, for example. Colombia has established a model program for market prominence. Latin American countries will soon dominate cannabis supply chain production in the western hemisphere for these reasons. This will become accelerated once there is an increase in commercial consumer demand across Latin America (with 17 million potential consumers, per recent data).
Likewise, across the ‘pond,’ EU-based nations and beyond will need to secure low cost, geographically proximate plant material to ‘feed’ the growing commercial consumer demand across the EU. And remember, the EU is home to more than 510 million people! African nations, such as Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Lesotho, Ghana, and Sierra Leone (to name a few), have recognized this. And they have moved/are moving very quickly in the direction of participating in this global supply chain. While the Far East and parts of Asia Minor (including but not limited to Israel and India) will supply other parts of the cannabis supply chain as well, the African Continent stands to benefit from its proximity and low cost production capabilities as the supplier to the EU and beyond.
On May 24-25th, The InterCannAlliance Africa Symposium (https://ica.newfrontierdata.com/Event/africa/) will host the Africa-region’s first high-level closed-door symposium in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. This event will feature a workshop style event, heavily attended by regulators in the sub-Sharan region to finalize what will be the first rigorous assessments of both risks and opportunities of cannabis cultivation in Africa. And I am very proud to be a significant part of it.
So, now the challenge is to work closely with these nations to craft rigid, but responsible legislation and regulation across Africa, in order to satisfy this supply chain demand. I am excited about this challenge, and sincerely look forward to contributing what I can along this journey. After all, a regulated lawful commercial global cannabis supply chain–it’s all a dream we dreamed one afternoon long ago.