Record legal shipment nudges Africa towards $7bn cannabis market

A record legal shipment of over 2 tonnes of cannabis from South Africa to Europe underlines the strong growth of an industry that some see as a panacea for economic growth in Africa.


Image : Angela Meuwsen-Sterling/

Canada-based Instadose Pharma Corp completed a record shipment of 2.125 tonnes of medicinal cannabis from South Africa to North Macedonia on 25 December 2021, according to a statement released by the company, boosting hopes that the African cannabis market will be worth over $7bn annually by 2023.

This follows the shipment in August of just over 2,000kg of THC and 6,500kg of CBD flower and trim from Lesotho by Highlands Investments.

A 2020 report by Prohibition Partners estimates that the bulk of the market will reside in five countries: Nigeria ($3.7bn), South Africa ($1.7bn), Morocco ($900m), Lesotho ($90m) and Zimbabwe ($80m), if the necessary legislation is introduced.

However, according to Sibusiso Xaba, co-founder and CEO of the Africa Cannabis Advisory Group, writing on, the most significant recent developments have been in South Africa, the market that he expects to be the largest by revenue.

According to Xaba, over 15 tonnes of legal cannabis were exported by the continent to the rest of the world in 2021, representing a tenfold increase on 2020, with South Africa, Lesotho and Uganda among the main exporters.

Despite industry concerns about regulation, he says that progress in South Africa is “undeniable”. The country produced a cannabis master plan and has taken steps to allow the commercial cultivation of hemp, a botanical class of cannabis that contains less THC, the psychoactive compound that causes a high.

A report from Research and Markets estimates that the global market for cannabidiol (CBD) – a cannabis derivative that does not produce psychoactive effects – will hit $2.73bn in 2021 and rise to $7.99bn by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 19.6%.

Cannabis could revive South African economy, claims academic

Going a step further, University of Cape Town lecturer Nqobile Bundwini claims in a recent research paper that if cannabis were destigmatised and allowed to flourish, it could revive the ailing South African economy.

Despite being the world’s most commonly cultivated drug, getting investors on board to develop the industry remains a problem, she says.

“The cannabis industry is massive. But the stigma attached to it results in endless challenges. A lack of knowledge about the industry, legal red tape, a lack of funding and limited banking options, and widespread social disapproval are just a few of the pain points,” she told Iémah Davids of the University of Cape Town News.

“I feel that South Africa has a tendency to lag behind and not optimally use its rich resources. And if we don’t, we will get left behind – in a situation where we should in fact be the pioneers, and leading from the front.”

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