The African Origins and Future of Black Cannabis

The African Origins and Future of Black Cannabis

Celebrating Black Cannabis History doesn’t have to center trauma. Yes, the War on Drugs and the pervasive propaganda of Prohibition still negatively impacts lives today. But the Black experience isn’t defined by our struggles and the harm inflicted on us as Black people.

Instead, The Plantivia Neighborhood extends an invitation of joy and curiosity about cannabis in our motherland in Africa: the past, present and future of the plant. Our people deserve to be uplifted and reminded that we thrived with cannabis and hemp before colonization and enslavement. And we will continue to do so!

So in this blog post, we’re diving into:

  • cannabis origin, uses and knowledge prior to European arrival
  • today’s African cannabis (and hemp) industry
  • the potential for growth and opportunity in the motherland

Keep reading for a refreshing take on Black Cannabis History!

It Started in Africa: Black Cannabis Timeline

Though Africa is the origin of humanity, cannabis is not from this part of the world. Syrian Islamic travelers introduced hashish (meaning “the herb”) to Egyptians in the 1300s. It was consumed as edibles. Smoking was evident in Ethiopia as early as 1320 since traces of cannabis were found in smoking pipes. 

These early Africans learned the medicinal power of the plant thanks to variation. As you know, edibles are slow-acting whereas smoking is great for fast effects. 

It made its way down to South Africa via the Khoisan and Bantu people, and naturally became a hit—before Europeans arrived in 1652. By the 1850s, Swahili traders brought cannabis from East Africa to West Africa in the Congo Basin. This lead to its West African names: “riamba, liamba, diamba, iamba.”

“Mariamba” was frequently used with “ma-“ being a plural sound. 

Rare water pipe at the Brooklyn Museum

The arriving Europeans, in their arrogant fashion, didn’t bother familiarizing themselves with African languages. And they were dismissive of “African tobacco,” failing to note that cannabis differed from their favorite carcinogenic crop. 

Though Europeans did consume cannabis as medicine in the soon-to-be United States, they lacked knowledge of it. Vital knowledge they could’ve learned from Africans that they chose to dehumanize and dismiss.

The major significance of “mariamba” is that the term was found in Brazilian writing in 1839. Captive Africans carried cannabis knowledge with them. 

Present-Day African Cannabis Industry

Centuries later, the world is slowly but gradually coming out of the fog of Cannabis Prohibition. This is especially apparent in Africa where there’s some progress in Southern countries while Northern ones remain hesitant about major reform. Countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Malawi and Lebanon lead the charge.

But there are constant hesitations despite the opportunity for a full-fledged African “Green Rush.”

In 2017, Lesotho was the 1st African country to allow medical cannabis cultivation. It’s predicted that 70% of “matekoane” (the Lesotho word for cannabis) consumed in South Africa is grown in this highly impoverished country. That alone makes up a 1/3rd of the country’s revenue and is seen as a major economic opportunity.

South Africa loosened their laws on private use, lifting criminal offenses for it.

Zimbabwe, whose main source of foreign exchange is tobacco, has grown cannabis as an alternative. They allow individuals and companies access to cultivation licenses for medicinal and research purposes. And recently, Malawi legalized growing, selling and exporting cannabis—recreational adult-use remains illegal though.

Despite the burgeoning opportunity, the ghosts of colonization and exploitation may feed into continent-wide legalization. Though Zambia sees an opportunity to revolutionize their economy, there’s reasonable concern that cannabis could take the route of gold and diamonds, depending on policy direction.

It’s anticipated that the African cannabis market could be worth $7.1 billion by 2023 and create 30,000 jobs by 2022. But with hefty fines and strict regulations about even CBD products, cannabis legalization remains a stagnated movement. 

The world has the Geneva International Opium Convention in 1925 to thank for banning or oppressively regulating cannabis in 47 African countries.

The Future of Black Cannabis in Africa

So what could the future of African cannabis look like?

The legalization of recreational use is clearly a slog. There’s much to consider for countries as they lighten restrictions. But ultimately, welcoming cannabis is a clear economic opportunity for nations seeking sustainable replacements for declining cash-crops that have caused environmental damage. It’s also a solution for a variety of industries, as noted by the Panafrican Hemp Association that’s led by Maldoi Ogbechie.

Outside of consumption, hemp is a positive alternative for construction, automotive and textile industries. And given the ideal climate and abundance of land, hemp and cannabis could cause a global boom that allows Africa to skip steps in developing its varied markets.

With the world in mind, collaboration is needed from North America, Europe and China in the form of intellectual and financial capital.

Still, there are setbacks. Despite South Africa’s effort to protect private cannabis use, the government remains ignorant of the full extent of legalization. Legal medical cannabis isn’t easily accessible for the average person. It’s still heavily regulated in other countries like Ghana and Kenya, harming the growth of small farmers and potential economic growth. Money instead goes to large, wealthy foreign companies instead of funneling funds into local communities.

Much like in America, there’s much work to be done to help politicians better understand cannabis and hemp. As these hurdles are cleared, the brave African countries willing to face down prohibition can hit the ground running to create a diverse cannabis market unlike any other.

Getting Involved with the Motherland

There’s a lot of work to be done to decriminalize and eradicate cannabis regulations in Africa. Fortunately, Southern African countries are leading the charge to influence reform that can help funnel in money and cannabis culture. 

We’re hopeful that the motherland will hit its Green Rush stride within the next few years.

What are your thoughts on African cannabis history? Are you interested in participating in the African cannabis industry?

Share this blog post along with your thoughts to continue the conversation!


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