Drug Policy Dialogues: Combining Evidence and Praxis to Impact Cannabis Policy Discourses in Africa


The year 2023 has been an eventful one for the Cannabis Africana: Drugs and Development in Africa project. The project is jointly run by the Universities of Bristol (in the UK) and Cape Town (in South Africa). It is an interdisciplinary study of cannabis in sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on its impact on livelihoods as well as the policy context. The project asks the following core question: ‘What is the historical and contemporary place of cannabis in African rural and urban livelihoods and, more specifically, what is the impact of the drug upon socio-economic development?’ Cannabis is a major drug crop in Africa, one whose production, trade and consumption are reportedly on the rise despite formally remaining illegal in countries in the region. The study explores how the substance came to be so prominent in African economies and cultures and analyses the contemporary trajectories of Africa’s most important drug crop, whose impact on socio-economic development is likely to be of high significance. This is even more important in the current global context where drug policy – especially that related to cannabis – is in flux, the dominance of supply-side approaches is in question and various states are trialling different policy approaches from decriminalisation to full legalisation.

The project seeks to develop a deeper understanding of cannabis in Africa, focusing not only on its ‘traditional’ uses, but also on its contemporary growth as an economic cash crop and source of livelihoods. The project focuses on four countries, that is, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. In line with the above goals, the project team set up various panels and workshops to bring together policy stakeholders to discuss research findings, the state of cannabis policy and experiences, challenges and the sort of cannabis futures stakeholders want to see. Below we summarise some of the events done since the beginning of the year.

ISSDP (Leuven, Belgium)

On 30 May 2023, we presented a paper titled Cannabis policy reforms in Africa: Emerging insights, at the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP) conference in Leuven, Belgium. The paper explored the current and ongoing creation of legal markets for cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes in some African countries. It highlighted cannabis’ ‘rebirth’ as a potentially valuable agrarian crop in the context of stagnating economies, following many years of prohibition. It argued that while the attendant policy reforms that embrace cannabis are welcomed, questions are emerging concerning their ability to facilitate broad-based benefits and participation of smallholder producers, especially those currently producing illegally. It grappled with the questions related to the development of ‘new’ cannabis markets in Africa, the potential for inclusivity, and the implications of the current cannabis policy developments to Africa’s agrarian futures.

Photo Credit: Clemence

ECAS2023 (Cologne, Germany)

We hosted a panel on African Cannabis Futures at the ECAS9 2023 in Cologne, Germany, on 2 June 2023. The panel had presentations focusing on Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal and Nigeria. The presentations highlighted the diverse experiences across the continent, stressing the point that African cannabis policy experiences cannot be generalised. They also noted the critical socio-economic role cannabis play in livelihoods of some. However, this does not mean that concerns with drug abuse and addition should be ignored. This point to the complexities of attaining a balanced drug policy in Africa that address the challenges without denying cannabis-based livelihoods. In particular, the panel argued that where legal markets are being created in African countries they simply limit it to cannabis production for medical and scientific purposes. These limitations follow a generalised narrative in which the epistemological worth of local knowledges find themselves subsumed by the intrinsic hegemony of archetypal western science, thus continuing the logic of exclusion seen throughout cannabis’s history albeit in more subtle form. The result is the perpetuating of the criminalisation of cannabis production by ordinary Africans.

Photo Credit: Clemence

Kenya Cannabis Policy Workshop (Nairobi)

On 5 July we co-hosted a cannabis policy workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, with Vocal-Kenya. The workshop was held at the British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA). It was titled ‘The future of cannabis in Kenya: legal and policy trajectories, and experiences’. The workshop was part of the Cannabis Africana: Drugs and Development in Africa project’s policy impact and dialogue initiatives. With cannabis policies changing dramatically worldwide over the past few years – especially, legalising production for medical and scientific purposes – strong debates have emerged on its role and implications for livelihoods and national development.  With some African countries creating legal markets for cannabis since 2017, the workshop asked the question – What do all these developments mean for human rights, inclusivity and livelihoods? And what is the future trajectory of cannabis law and regulation in Kenya?

The workshop created a platform that brought together drug policy advocates, researchers and policy makers, among others, to support capacity building in policy engagement. It also facilitated inclusive participation in shaping drug policies that enhance local development. The above aims were achieved through: 

  1. Promoting policy engagement and networking. 
  2. Data and information sharing and dissemination. 
  3. Sharing of best practice protocols among stakeholders. 

A policy brief is being produced with the participation of some of the policy stakeholders who attended the Nairobi Cannabis Workshop.

Photo Credit: Immortal Moments Productions

South Africa Drug Policy Week

In Mid-August Cannabis Africana hosted a panel at the South Africa Drug Policy Week in Cape Town, South Africa. You can access Simon Howell and Myrtle Clarke’s presentations online.

Photo Credit: SA Drug Policy Week

CRISA Conference

On 31 August the team then hosted another panel on cannabis policy in Uyo, Nigeria, at the Centre for Research and Information on Substance Abuse (CRISA) conference. The panel looked at cannabis experiences in countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana. The project also co-hosted a methodological workshop on ‘Doing drugs research beyond the survey’ at the conference, as well as keynote and plenary speeches by project members. The cannabis policy panel as well as the methodological discussions on ethnography and reflexive research created a lot of debate and interest among the policy activists, government officials and researchers present.’

Photo Credit: Gernot

Planned Events

Look out for news on our upcoming workshop on cannabis policy and experiences in Zimbabwe, to be co-hosted with Kutsaga Research in Harare, Zimbabwe, in October 2023.

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