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Article Zambia: Cannabis Act and Industrial Hemp Act Enacted

On May 20, 2021, Zambia enacted two laws, the Cannabis Act, 2021 and the Industrial Hemp Act, 2021. Their enactment follows a 2019 cabinet decision to permit the production and export of cannabis for medical and export purposes. This reform was reportedly driven by the need to boost foreign exchange sources. According to one source, “Zambia’s motivation is rooted in a hefty fiscal deficit and growing debt burden. Growth in external debt to $10.5 billion at the end of 2018 from $8.74 billion a year earlier has raised fears the country is headed for a debt crisis.”

Cannabis Act

The Cannabis Act permits a person to engage in what is called licensed activity, “the cultivation, manufacture, production, storage, distribution, import and export of cannabis for medicinal, scientific or research purposes.” (Cannibis Act §§ 4 & 14.) The application of the act does not extend to “cannabis plant[s] with a delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3 per cent on a dry weight basis exclusively for industrial or horticultural purposes.” (§ 3.) Such plants are regulated under the Industrial Hemp Act (see below.)

The act designates the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority (the “Lead Agency”) as the cannabis regulatory agency. (§ 4.) The Lead Agency is tasked with the authority to license persons interested in engaging in licensed activities. (§ 4.) Engaging in any such activity without a license is an offense. (§ 14.)

The Lead Agency makes a decision on whether to approve an application for a license on the basis of the recommendation of a newly established committee, the National Cannabis Coordinating Committee (the committee). (§§ 5 & 15.) The president appoints members of the committee, who represent various government departments and the private sector. (§ 5.) The committee’s functions include considering applications for licenses under the act and under the Industrial Hemp Act; providing quotas for the cultivation of cannabis annually; and, in consultation with the appropriate institutions, designating places where cannabis cultivation is permitted. (§§ 6 & 13.)

A license is issued for a period of three years and may be renewed. (§§ 17 & 18.) The Lead Agency may suspend or revoke a license if the licensee:

(a) breaches a condition of the licence;
obtained the licence by fraud, misrepresentation or concealment of a material fact;
(c) is legally disqualified to undertake the licensed activity;
(d) is an undischarged bankrupt; or
(e) is convicted of an offence under the Act or any other law and sentenced to a term of imprisonment exceeding six months without the option of a fine. (§ 19.)

Before suspending or revoking a license, the Lead Agency must notify the licensee and allow him or her to take remedial measures. (§ 19.) 

The act imposes an absolute bar on engaging in any licensed activity within a 15.5 mile radius of public or private schools, public parks, public libraries, and alcoholism or drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation centers. (§ 25.)

Industrial Hemp Act

This act permits a person to engage in licensed activities, “the growing, processing, distribution, buying, export and conducting of research on industrial hemp.” (Industrial Hemp Act § 3.) It defines hemp as “a plant of cannabis and any part or derivative of that plant, including viable seed, whether growing or not with a delta-9 -tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis.” (§ 2.) The licensing process is similar to that under the Cannabis Act primarily because licenses for licensed activities under the Hemp Act are issued by the Lead Agency on the recommendation of the committee. (§§ 2, 3 & 5.) A license issued under this act is valid for five years, and the Lead Agency may revoke it before it expires for the same reasons as stipulated above under the Cannabis Act. (§§ 7 & 9.)

As is the case under the Cannabis Act, the committee, in consultation with the appropriate authority, is authorized to designate areas for growing, processing, distribution and buying of industrial hemp. (§ 13.)

The act prohibits anyone licensed to grow industrial hemp from cultivating cannabis on the same premises. Doing so is an offense punishable, on conviction, by a fine, custodial sentence, or both. In addition, the Lead Agency may seize the illegally grown cannabis. (§ 14.)   

Recreational Use of Cannabis

Recreational use of cannabis remains an offense. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 2021 bars anyone from consuming psychotropic substances, including:

Products of Cannabis containing more than 0.3 percent Delta-9- Tetrahydrocannabino, (THC)

(i) Herbal products known as Marijuana;
(ii) Cannabis resins or hashish cake;
(iii) Cannabis oil or hashish oil; and
(iv) any other cannabis products. (§§ 2 & 22; third sched.)

A violation of this provision is punishable, on conviction, by a fine or custodial sentence not exceeding two years. (§ 22.) Possession of cannabis without authorization is subject to a fine. (§ 18.) If the amount is such that it constitutes trafficking, the gravity of the offense and the penalty for it become dramatically higher. (§ 15.) The quantity of cannabis whose possession constitutes trafficking has yet to be defined. (§ 2.)

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