LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia has legalized the production and export of cannabis for economic and medicinal purposes, the government’s chief spokeswoman said on Monday, becoming the latest country to shift its position on the drug to give its finances a boost.
The approval for the export of cannabis was granted at a special cabinet meeting on Dec. 4, spokeswoman Dora Siliya said in a statement. It was not clear from the statement if the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in Zambia had been legalized.
The southern African country joins a host of nations that have legalized, or are considering legalizing cannabis to some degree, as attitudes towards the drug slowly change and investments in its medical benefits grow.
Zambia’s motivation is rooted in a hefty fiscal deficit and growing debt burden. Growth in external debt to $10.5 billion at the end of 2018 from $8.74 billion a year earlier has raised fears the country is headed for a debt crisis.
Zambia cut its 2019 growth forecast in September because bad weather had hit crop production and electricity generation while the International Monetary Fund has said growth is likely to remain subdued over the medium term.
Zambian opposition Green Party President Peter Sinkamba, who has been advocating the export of cannabis since 2013, said the move could earn Zambia up to $36 billion annually.
“Depending on how properly this is done, this could just change the face of Zambia’s economy,” Sinkamba told Reuters. “This could be a blessing or a curse, like diamonds and gold, depending on the policy direction.”
Siliya said the government had directed the ministry of health to coordinate the issuance of the necessary licenses while a technical committee made up of ministers from a range of departments would come up with guidelines.
Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Emma Rumney and David Clarke