Pubdate: Fri, 14 Nov 2014
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited
Authors: Tim McDonnell and Aaron Ross Kitwe
Page: 33


For decades Zambia has staked its economic fortunes on copper mining, 
but when voters go to the polls in January to elect a new president 
at least one candidate will be looking to send that tradition up in smoke.

Today Peter Sinkamba is due to announce his candidacy on the Green 
party ticket to replace the late President Michael Sata, who died on 
29 October from an undisclosed illness. Sinkamba, regarded as 
Zambia's leading environmentalist for his battles against the 
country's big copper mines, is running on an unlikely platform in 
this socially conservative nation: legalising marijuana.

His plan, announced in April, calls for legalisation of cannabis for 
medicinal use, which would be a first in Africa. The surplus crop 
would be exported, earning Zambia what Sinkamba says could amount to 
billions of dollars.

At stake is an opportunity to diversify Zambia's economy while 
beginning to clean up the environmental degradation left by intensive 
opencast mining.

Copper has long been Zambia's national treasure, having fired the 
country to middle-income status in the 1960s and 70s. By the late 
1990s tumbling copper prices sent the mining income to its lowest 
levels since independence from the UK in 1964. Mining has since 
rebounded. In 2012 copper exports amounted to $6.3bn (UKP4bn), or 
nearly 70% of Zambia's total export market. But local communities 
suffer from environmental impacts such as toxic sulphur dioxide 
emissions from refineries.

In an interview with the Guardian in his hometown of Kitwe, the 
Copper belt's largest city, Sinkamba said his marijuana proposal 
would wean Zambia off its addiction to mining by prioritising its 
fledgling agricultural sector.

"Historically, we've been the kind of people that have consumed a lot 
of marijuana," said Sinkamba. "It is massively cultivated across the 
whole country [for the black market] ... so what we're saying is, 
look, let's come out of it and legalise it." Sinkamba reckonsr Zambia 
could capture up t to 10% of a global marijuana marketm  estimated at 
$140bn by the UN in 2005  which would mak make it more lucrative than 
copper mining. Earlier this year the Green party claimed mar 
marijuana exports would bo boost GDP by over 68% by 2021.

Experts on the international drug trade, however, caution that 
Sinkamba's scheme may be half-baked. John Collins, a drug policy 
researcher at the London School of Economics, said the export of 
marijuana for recreational use would fall foul of the 1961 UN single 
convention on international narcotics control.

Nor would marijuana exports necessarily be all that profitable, 
according to Jon Caulkins, a cannabis expert at Carnegie Mellon 
University, who pointed out that it would take less than 10,000 acres 
to grow all the THC (the main constituent in marijuana) consumed in 
the US. Zambia has about 87.4m arable acres.

However, Collins called Sinkamba's plan "entirely doable" if he can 
take advantage of loopholes that exist in international drug law for 
medicinal drugs. Israel, for example, last year considered a plan to 
export medicinal marijuana to the Czech Republic, but shied away out 
of concern that becoming an international drug dealer would look bad 

"I think the key for Zambia is that they may view the economic 
returns from the industry as outweighing political concerns," he said.

In any case, Sinkamba is a dark horse in the election. But he insists 
that his proposal has struck a chord with a disillusioned, and very 
young, electorate.

On the streets of Kitwe, Sinkamba is greeted by young people with 
cries of "Legalise!".

"When we look at the trends, the world is going in the direction of 
legalising marijuana," said Sinkamba. "But we don't want to be the 
last ones. We want to be the first ones."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom