Kampala. Uganda is home to 2.6 million marijuana users, and in the pecking order of the notable weed consumers, the country sits among the top 10 on the continent, a new report has revealed.
New Frontier Data, a UK-based authority in data analytics and business intelligence on the global cannabis industry, yesterday released its latest industry study - The Africa Regional Hemp & Cannabis Report: 2019 Industry Outlook showing that 83 million people in Africa consume marijuana.
In Africa, Nigeria, the most populous nation on the continent, is leading the pack of marijuana consumers with 20.8 million people, followed by Ethiopia (7.1 million), Egypt (5.9 million) and Democratic Republic of Cong with 5 million.
In East Africa alone, nearly 10 million people illegally use cannabis for various reasons.
Tanzania, which sits in 5th position among the top 20 marijuana consuming African countries, leads East African region with 3.6 million consumers, followed by Kenya in the 6th position with 3.3 million and then Uganda in the 8th position, with 2.6 million users. Burundi and South Sudan are not mentioned in the new report.
Sudan is 7th with 2.7 million cannabis users, followed by Madagascar (2.1 million), Ghana (2 million), Mozambique (1.9 million) and Angola (1.8 million).
The African countries with the least marijuana consumers, according to the 2019 report, are Zimbabwe with 1.1 million, Malawi (1.2 million), Niger (1.2 million) and Zambia with 1.4 million.
The new report is based on engagement with stakeholders on the ground, and intended for African policymakers, government officials, entrepreneurs, foreign investors, and casual observers interested in the medical cannabis and industrial hemp markets for their potential benefits in Africa.
New Frontier Data estimates the value of the combined legal and illicit markets for cannabis in Africa at $37.3b (about Shs139.2 trillion), with a range falling between $18.99b and $63.7b.
“Cannabis use is common across Africa, with an average annual cannabis use rate of 11.4 per cent among adults aged 15-64, nearly double the global average of 6 per cent,” the report reads in part.
It adds: “The high usage rate and Africa’s population of 1.26 billion people translates to 83 million cannabis consumers on the continent, accounting for 1/3 of cannabis consumers globally.”
The estimates for prevailing cannabis use are based on the best currently available data from government agencies and global public health organisations. Such estimates will, however, be continuously updated and refined as more data becomes available.
Some countries have legalised cannabis in some form, and others such as Uganda are in early stages of structuring their market regulations. As government, business, health, and legal experts work to lay the foundation for newly legal cannabis markets across the globe, the report says it is important to understand the size of the market opportunities and the influencers of the industry’s growth.
Annual demand for cannabis worldwide is estimated at $344.4b throughout 2018. The estimated value of global cannabis demand relies heavily on the country-level estimates for each number of cannabis consumers, consumption volumes, and price levels.
However, in understanding the context for cannabis consumption, it is important to note that New Frontier Data’s analysis does not make distinctions as to whether the consumption occurs in a legal medical, a legal recreational market, or an illicit market, and is solely an approximation of the totality of demand for cannabis across the world.
The New Frontier Data analysis does not include industrial hemp or the cannabis plants that are grown specifically for industrial use, rather than for making Cannabinol (CBD)-the non-psychoactive in hemp and marijuana used to treat opioid addiction.
More than 50 countries around the world have legalised some form of cannabis for medical use, and seven — Canada, Georgia, Guam, Mexico, the Northern Mariana Islands, Uganda, South Africa, and Uruguay — have legalised it for personal or recreational use.
In 2015, Uganda enacted The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act that allows cultivation, production and exportation of medical marijuana. The government has also licensed Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd to grow and export medical marijuana for medical purposes.
Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd was established in 2012 and is currently working with Together Pharma Limited, one of the largest Israeli cannabis firms on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. They have invested $360m in marijuana industry and established cannabis farms in Hima, Kasese District.
More than 20 local companies have also submitted their requests to the Health minister seeking to grow marijuana for medical purposes. The law mandates the Health minister to issue written consent for medical marijuana. However, the minister insists the applications will have to wait for the final Cabinet decision. Cabinet is still discussing the financial and health benefits of marijuana.
Science has validated the efficacy of cannabis to treat several medical conditions and their symptoms. In 2017, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, found that medical cannabis was effective in reducing symptoms in patients with chronic pain, and in treating nausea and vomiting, along with spasticity related to multiple sclerosis.
Marijuana as medicine
A 2018 survey of cannabis consumers by New Frontier Data also found that anxiety, pain, insomnia, arthritis, migraine, and nausea were each conditions that self-identified medical cannabis users treated with cannabis.
Ugandan farmers have used it to treat tapeworm infestation in livestock. But in South Africa, boiled cannabis leaves are key ingredients for a preparation to treat conjunctivitis in livestock. And in Kenya, infusions of cannabis leaves have been used to treat diarrhoea, dysentery, pneumonia, and Newcastle disease in livestock.
In Southwestern Africa, the Khoikhoi have traditionally used cannabis to treat snake bites and some people- the Sotho, use marijuana during childbirth.
In Zimbabwe, cannabis has been used to treat conditions as varied as asthma, anthrax, and malaria, yet in Tanzania and throughout Southern Africa, where many native strains have higher concentrations of the cannabinoid THCV, cannabis has been used as an appetite suppressant and to quell hunger pains.
Police speak out
Mr Zarugaba Tinka, the acting commissioner of anti-narcotics at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), said police cannot confirm or deny that Uganda has 2.6 million marijuana consumers since the country lacks concrete statistics about drug usage in the country.
Mr Tinka, however, confirmed that marijuana growing remains a big problem in four regions of Uganda and proposed that the anti-narcotics law be fortified to provide for land confiscation as the case in Kenya.
Quoting a recent research by Uganda Harm Reduction Network, a non-governmental organiosation, Mr Tinka put the number of drug consumers at about 3 million or 3.5 million. He said the NGO used Kampala and Mbale as their base study for the research and warned that “the problem of marijuana is gaining momentum.”
“Marijuana growing is a big problem in eastern region of Busia, Mbale, Tororo, the central region of Butambala area around Mityana, Luweero. In the west, there is Fort Portal area, Kasese, Bundibugyo and we have another problem in the north in areas like Gulu and Arua,” Mr Tinka said.
“Interestingly, in those areas, they grow marijuana but they don’t use it, they don’t consume it, it’s a crop that is brought to Kampala and also shipped to Kenya.”
In the eastern part of Uganda, Mr Tinka explained that marijuana is a big problem there because Kenya banned the growing of marijuana and their law provides that if authorities find marijuana on your land, it [land] will be confiscated by the government. This, according to Mr Tinka, made Kenyans to stop growing marijuana but moved to Uganda side.
“The Kenyans come here, hire land, grow marijuana and take it to Kenya through illegal borders. That is what has compounded the problem in the east,” he said.
Explaining what government is doing to fight illegal drugs in the country, Mr Tinka talked of “some awaking in government that marijuana is becoming a problem”. He cited the amended anti-narcotics law that punishes offenders with 10 years imprisonment or a Shs10m fine from Shs1m fine and one year sentence. Police are also sensitising people in marijuana growing communities to abandon the crop.
Medical marijuana wave
But the medical marijuana wave that is sweeping through the continent appears to make matters worse. Mr Tinka says “a new suggestion” that the government should license companies to grow marijuana for medical purposes as the case in Europe and America should not be rushed without sufficient security measures and regulations.
“We already have marijuana and our soil and climate are good but from the police point of view, we feel marijuana growing in Uganda should not be allowed unless the Ministry of Health comes with concrete evidence that we need marijuana for medical purposes,” Mr Tinka said.
“As police, we also feel we don’t yet have internal control mechanisms to control the diversion of the cannabis that is allowed to be grown here into the general population. We are failing to control what is already being grown here illegally, how much more trouble shall we have if we allow it to be grown legally?”
What Ganja planters say
Mr Benjamin Cadet, one of the directors at Industrial Hemp (U) Ltd, however, told Saturday Monitor yesterday that what police authorities calls “a suggestion to grow marijuana” for medical purposes is already a law, and that the 2.6 million marijuana users in the new report “are illegal cannabis users since it is illegal for recreational use in Uganda.”
“The fear that allowing medical cannabis will make matters worse is baseless and such arguments negate the fact that by developing the best medical cannabis pharmaceutical facility in Africa and one in the top five in the world, we want to bring the real pharmaceutical and therapeutic value of the cannabis plant to those in need and these are the patients,” Mr Cadet explained.
“The issue of skepticism is because of ignorance. Uganda, just like the UK, is not decriminalising cannabis. We are just giving it exception to be used for medical and pharmaceutical purposes that have been proven in the treatment of cancers, epilepsy, sleep disorders etc... that is what is in the law that cCbinet passed, enacted by Parliament and signed by the President in 2015.”
In countries where medical cannabis is legal, the governments have taken varying approaches to regulation. Some restrict possession and use on a case-by-case basis (with limited lists of approved products by import only), while others have opened the doors to patient access by approving expansive lists of qualifying medical conditions, and establishing licensing for domestic production.
Whereas Cabinet is still discussing the health and financial benefits of marijuana, the new report shows that cannabis is used for medical and wellness purposes and contains cannabinoid: CBD, or cannabidiol.