By: Anthony Bwalya – UPND Member
While the global copper market is worth just above $260 billion, with Zambia claiming just slightly above 4% of the global market, with net revenues of only round $500 – $700 million per annum ( I stand to be corrected). The global cannabis market, on the other hand, is currently estimated to be worth $340 billion and just keeps on growing.
It must be noted that the level of technical expertise and intensity of capital associated with the cannabis supply chain, from growing, marketing to selling; is relatively friendly and nowhere near as laborious as the mining industry, perhaps save for a few stringent global regulatory requirements.
But what this means is that Zambia and Zambians can own the Cannabis industry 100% and internalize 100% of all forex revenues arising from this business. Capturing even a paltry 1% of the global Cannabis market could potentially generate a staggering $3.4 billion per annum for the country. But again if we are not careful, this amount of money could very easily end up in the hands and pockets of cartels who I imagine are well poised to pounce on this multi billion honeypot.
Our biggest problem at the moment is the $250,000 lisence fee requirement. This is in effect an invitation to big money foreign and local cartels to not only use Zambia as a platform to clean up their dirty money, but also an opportunity for them to make an easy killing at the expense of Zambians. If this happens, we would have laid the perfect breeding ground for an underground Cannabis market which will undoubtedly be punctuated by gun violence as participants look to claim a share of what they believe is an opportunity systematically denied them.
The sensible way to go about this program is to initially place the cultivation, marketing and selling of Cannabis in the hands of a disciplined state institution such as the Zambia National Service (ZNS). Let these be assisted and equipped with all the initially required expertise and tools and let them get the show started. In the process, they will create employment for hundreds of youths and other professionals. But ZNS will also be crucial to provide the right kind of discipline in so far as preventing the wanton theft and abuse of the product from their production areas.
In the meantime, the government should look to building and strengthening a functional framework that ensures that the growing, marketing and export of Cannabis is done in an orderly and beneficial manner to the country and it’s people; as well as paving the way for the gradual participation of small scale farmers and other private sector players into the industry. As far as the participation of small scale farmers and local private sector is concerned, the lisence fee must be enabling enough to ensure that locals are not excluded from actively and fully participating in building their own economy. The participation of foreign entrants must be heavily regulated and restricted to working partnerships with locals to avoid the unnecessary externalization of forex revenue.
At the end of the day, this must be an enterprise fully owned by Zambians.
Politicians must resist the temptation of hijacking this enterprise away from the people. We have already seen this with Mukula and other mineral resources where corrupt government officials have been the principal beneficiaries while the people suffer.
We cannot and we will not accept this sort of scenario with Cannabis.
The legalization of Marijuana in Zambia could well be the making or breaking of us.