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Is Marijuana Legal in Eswatini?

Eswatini flag with a hand holding a marijuana infront of it

It’s against the law to use, possess, or sell cannabis in Eswatini, and the country imposes harsh penalties on those who violate the rules. However, King Mswati III’s government is currently considering allowing legal cannabis production to support its struggling economy.

Medical Marijuana Laws in Eswatini

In 1922, Eswatini passed the Opium and Habit-Forming Drugs Act, which criminalized cannabis and outlined punishment for association with the plant.

Those caught with simple cannabis possession face up to five years in prison under current rules, as the Pharmacy (Amendment) Act of 1992 outlines.

Despite strict regulations, an illegal cannabis industry currently thrives in former Swaziland, thanks to high international demand for the marijuana varietal Swazi Gold, a landrace strain from the region said to produce highly potent psychoactivity.

Eswatini’s perspective is slowly shifting on cannabis, and laws may change soon. In 2015, then-Minister Phiwayinkhosi Mabuza called to legalize “dagga,” the local word for cannabis (aka “insangu” in Swazi).

Experts speculate that legalizing cannabis in Eswatini could generate as much as $1.63 billion, which could triple the country’s GDP.

The 1922 law mandates that the Minister of Health, acting under King Mswati III, may issue licenses for the medical use of marijuana, and in 2019, the Ministry put forth a regulatory framework for the legal cannabis industry. However, this law has yet to pass.

Many Eswatini citizens have criticized the law and don’t want it to pass, claiming that growing cannabis — despite its illegal status — is the only thing keeping their families from utter poverty.

While the bill would legalize cannabis for medical use and research, it would undermine one of the only avenues for trade in a restricted economy with little opportunity for work.

Critics have been vocal about the bill’s drawbacks, but it is hard for advocates to pressure lawmakers into considering their feedback.

Eswatini, one of the last African countries with a monarchy, banned political parties in the 1970s and has jailed or exiled too-vocal supporters of democratic reform. As such, there’s little that non-government members can do to impact the law in its final form.

The exact guidelines involved in the legal medicinal cannabis industry in Eswatini remain to be seen. In its current draft, medical practitioners will be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions for which they believe it will be a helpful treatment.

What to Know About About Medical Cannabis in Eswatini

You cannot access medical or recreational cannabis in Eswatini. Similarly, you cannot bring it into the country. If you’re planning a visit to the area, it is recommended that you leave your cannabis (including CBD) at home, even if you have a medical marijuana card.

Cannabis Is Currently Illegal

Current law bans the use or possession of cannabis in Eswatini. Those caught by law enforcement face up to five years in prison for simple possession, though penalties escalate in severity for more severe infractions.

The sale or cultivation of cannabis can incur a maximum of 15 years imprisonment and fines of up to €15,000.

The Laws May Change Soon

A bill awaiting further government approval would legalize marijuana cultivation in Eswatini and create an enabling legislative environment for medical marijuana in the Southern African kingdom.

CBD Is Illegal

Law enforcement and regulations do not differentiate between cannabis and CBD; affiliation with either is punishable by Eswatini’s drug code.

Can You Grow Cannabis In Eswatini?

Marijuana cultivation is illegal in Eswatini, and the country imposes strict fines and lengthy prison time for growers. However, cannabis cultivation is widespread in the country as a means of income for poor farmers and families.

Nearly 40% of Eswatini citizens live under the international €1.70 per day poverty threshold, and many farmers rely on the plant to earn a living, especially as it produces higher profits than alternative crops.

As such, Eswatini is one of the most significant cannabis producers among southern African states, despite regular attempts by law enforcement to destroy crops.

The Bottom Line

While former Swaziland is exploring legalizing industrial hemp and medical cannabis as a national export, current law bans any affiliation with or use of the cannabis plant.

It’s important to follow local regulations when visiting or residing in the country and avoid cannabis use or possession.