Why Malawi Asked Mike Tyson to be its Cannabis Ambassador

The global demand for medicinal cannabis is continuously surging, and African countries are hopeful this will significantly improve their economic fortunes. One such country charting new paths regarding the medicinal cannabis industry is Malawi. And in order to court worthy investment in this incipient industry, Malawi asked former American boxer Mike Tyson to be its official cannabis ambassador.

This unorthodox method of attracting foreign investment elicited positive and negative appraisals within Malawi and outside its borders. But the Southern African country hopes to leverage on the global demand for medicinal cannabis and attendant products such as CBD oils.

It is adamant that this is the best move for the cannabis industry not only in Malawi but in Africa at large to take off. And such adamance is arguably necessary to extricate Africa from the shackles of colonial laws that outlawed marijuana – one of the most ubiquitous herbs on the continent.

Malawi’s Agricultural Minister Lobin Lowe invited Mike Tyson to be the country’s official ambassador via a letter addressed to the latter. The purpose is to draw investment to the country.

Minister Lowe asserted that the deal with Mike Tyson – the former world heavyweight champion whose illustrious career was blighted by substance abuse, prison sentences, and childhood trauma – was materialized by the United States Cannabis Association.

Wezi Ngalamila, who leads the association’s Malawi branch, confirmed that “Iron Mike” had accepted the invitation and is now working on visiting the country.

Malawi is widely known for widespread marijuana cultivation, a historically-embedded practice that has sustained the lives of many, particularly the peasantry. The country is globally famed for its ‘Malawi gold’ marijuana strain. Despite such widespread presence of a cannabis culture, Malawi had never relaxed tight regulatory laws governing the cultivation or use of cannabis – but in 2020 it legalized the growing and processing of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes. Recreational use remains prohibited.

Alongside other countries such as Zimbabwe, Lesotho, South Africa, Morocco, Zambia, and eSwatini that have relaxed the legal regulatory framework of the cannabis industry, banking on Tyson’s influence will vastly boost the fortunes of the African cannabis industry. It is estimated that by 2023, Africa’s legal cannabis industry will be worth nearly $7.1 billion by 2023. This is a possibility that Africa must capitalize on as the legal marijuana industry has the infinite potential to substantially transform the millions of lives in Africa. That is if such profits are not privatized by the cannabis growers whose [private] capital often comes from foreign countries.

In defending Malawi’s move to invite Tyson as its cannabis ambassador, Gracian Lungu, the spokesperson to the Ministry of Agriculture, asserted, “We want to market this industry outside Malawi and we thought that aligning ourselves to Mike Tyson could greatly help us with our industrial and medicinal cannabis considering that progress has been very slow in marketing our industry internationally.”

Tyson is widely known for his strong cannabis advocacy, and this is substantiated by the fact that he even grows his own strains. Recently he said “Cannabis puts me in a different state of mind; it relaxes me. I wish I would have discovered it … earlier in life … the more relaxed I am, the better I am. Not just as a fighter but in my daily life.”

The former boxer, with a troubled history of substance abuse that dented his career, is unapologetically spreading the positive effects of cannabis in society. Last week, he released his “premium flower line” called Tyson 2.0 in Colorado – “a carefully cultivated flower”. In 2016 Tyson launched his cannabis company, Tyson Holistic,  that specializes in cannabis products.

But his tainted past has attracted the ire of Malawi’s civil society. They do not want Malawi to be associated with a “convicted rapist” in an official ambassadorial capacity. These sentiments come from the Centre for Public Accountability who argue that his previous criminal records do not help in curbing violence against women. This may be a respectable counter-argument to the government’s initiative, but it must be weighed against the economic prospects of poverty alleviation.

The cannabis industry in Africa suffers from unequal competition and would do well to rely on the influence that Tyson holds. It also presents an opportunity for Malawi to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Solidarity with African-Americans is also important in forging enduring unity among black peoples globally. Being associated with Tyson will bring eyes to Malawi – and to neighbouring African countries making strides to establish competitive legal cannabis industries.

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