Cannabis in Ethiopia – Laws, Use, and History

Ethiopia is the spiritual home of Rastafarianism. Despite this, cannabis use is forbidden by law, even in Shashamane, a town that was bequeathed to Rastafarians by Haile Selassie. Ethiopia lies on a popular trafficking route from southern Africa to Asia, so a lot of cannabis passes through.

    • Capital
    • Addis Ababa
    • Population
    • 112,759,000
    • CBD Products
    • Illegal
    • Recreational cannabis
    • Illegal
    • Medicinal cannabis
    • Illegal

Cannabis laws in Ethiopia

Can you possess and use cannabis in Ethiopia?

While it’s legal to use and possess khat (a plant with mild psychoactive properties) in Ethiopia, cannabis use is forbidden by law. If you’re found in possession of it, you could be given a six-month prison sentence and a fine. However, it’s not widely used in the country. According to figures, only 2.6% of Ethiopians use cannabis, and it’s not often seized by authorities (when compared to other African nations).

If you’re arrested for cannabis possession in the country, you’re (in theory) meant to be brought to court within 48 hours.

Can you sell cannabis in Ethiopia?

It’s also illegal to sell cannabis in Ethiopia, and penalties are more severe for this type of offence. They range from five to ten years’ imprisonment, plus a fine of 100,000 Ethiopian birr.

The authorities regularly conduct checks at border crossings and ports of entry, as the country lies on a popular trafficking route. As such, it’s unwise to attempt to smuggle the drug in or out. The Drug Administration and Control Authority is mainly responsible for all drug policies in Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Federal Police Counter-Narcotic Division enforces the policies.

Despite the strictness of the law, cannabis is still sold in Ethiopia; particularly in the poorer areas of the cities.

Can you grow cannabis in Ethiopia?

At present, it’s illegal to grow cannabis in Ethiopia, even if it’s just a single plant in your own home. However, there are some known areas of cannabis cultivation in the country, such as Shebendia (Sidamo district), Shashamane (Oromia district) and Alemaya (eastern Hararghe district). Shashamane is particularly well-known for the quality of its cannabis.

Some locals also grow cannabis for personal use – largely for medicinal purposes, as access to public healthcare is limited.

Is CBD legal in Ethiopia?

Ethiopian law doesn’t currently differentiate between cannabis and CBD. So, even though CBD contains far less THC (the substance responsible for the ‘high’), it cannot be legally sold or purchased.  

Can cannabis seeds be sent to Ethiopia?

The law does not permit you to buy or sell cannabis seeds in Ethiopia. This means you can’t mail them through the post.

Medicinal cannabis in Ethiopia

Medicinal cannabis is not legal in Ethiopia and at the time of writing, there is no medical programme in place. The government has made no plans to introduce such a programme either.

Industrial hemp in Ethiopia

While cannabis cannot be legally cultivated in Ethiopia, industrial hemp can. It doesn’t have enough THC content to produce a ‘high’, and can be used for a variety of purposes, including making fibre, rope, building materials and food.

In 2014, the Global Hemp group announced plans (in conjunction with African Frontier Partners) to develop large-scale hemp production and processing facilities in Ethiopia. This was in addition to Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. They also planned to join forces with local universities who wanted to research the plant’s pharmacological and agricultural potential.

Clement Aboge, managing partner at African Frontier Partners, commented that the move would “have significant social impact and lift millions of people out of poverty on the African continent.” He added: “We believe this effort will result in high social and environment impact, including empowering women (and children / families), and enabling millions to live in dignity, as well as providing positive environmental impact through the restoration of farmlands.”

Good to know

If you are travelling to Ethiopia (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:

History of cannabis

It’s believed that cannabis has been grown and used in Ethiopia for centuries. Ancient people were thought to have used it for medicinal purposes, not to mention for spiritual practices.

The Coptic Church of Alexandria is believed to have used cannabis in its rituals, and it’s possible that they still do so today. The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church (which claims to continue the traditional Coptic practices) uses cannabis as a sacrament. They claim that the ancient people of Ethiopia did so too.

In terms of archaeological evidence; ceramic smoking pipes were found in Lalibela Cave in the Begemeder province. They dated back to 1320 AD, and scientists discovered traces of cannabis-derived substances in them.

Modern Attitudes

Cannabis use is common among Rastafarians in Ethiopia, especially in Shashamane. However, not all Ethiopian Rastafarians believe it’s right to use the drug. For example, Haile Selassie’s great-nephew, Asfa-Wossen Asserate, finds it ‘bizarre’ that cannabis has been linked to the religion.

“They shouldn’t be smoking it,” he tells Vice. “This is not the thing which we want to show to the youth of Ethiopia. We have enough problems, you know, and smoking ganja, they should not ask people to partake in that and lead people to believe that it is not a harmful drug.”

As for non-Rastafarians? Recreational cannabis use seems to be on the rise, particularly in urban areas. In response to this increase, the government has invested money into publicising the negatives associated with cannabis use, and promoting prevention and treatment programmes.

Despite this, Ethiopians living in poverty continue to use cannabis to treat their illnesses. This is partly due to lingering superstitious beliefs, but also because of lack of access to proper healthcare. Traditional healers use cannabis, particularly when attempting to heal wounds.

What is Shashamane?

Shashamane is a town in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, around 150 miles from the capital of Addis Ababa. In 1948, Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, bequeathed this land to the newly forming religion that grew to worship him as the Messiah – Rastafarianism.

It’s a highly significant place for modern Rastafarians, as it marks a symbol of repatriation; an opportunity to return to their homeland. People from across the world live in the town, though the majority of Rastafarians here are Jamaican

However, there are tensions between the Rastafarian community and the Ethiopian locals; notably over the use of cannabis. One Ethiopian teacher told BBC: “The Rastas are nice people and very friendly … but they have done little for the development of the town. All they do is smoke marijuana, which the Ethiopian farmers here grow for them.”

She adds: “We like them as they integrate, and there is a lot of inter-marriage, but the marijuana has to stop.” Despite cannabis being widely used within the community, it is still illegal, in accordance with Ethiopian law.

Shashamane comes to life each year to honour Rastafarian Bob Marley’s birthday. This is usually marked by a two-day festival, which sees people flood into the town in their hundreds.

Links with terrorist groups

Many people believe that profits made from the illegal trade of cannabis in Ethiopia are used to fund fundamentalist groups (particularly Islamic organisations) operating in the area. However, there is very little evidence to support this.

What is cannabis like in Ethiopia?

Much of the cannabis in Ethiopia is imported from other African countries (particularly hashish, which comes mostly from North Africa). The landraces that are grown domestically, Durban Poison and Malawi Gold, are well known for their uplifting, invigorating effects, mainly because most of them are pure sativas.

As the plants are grown in the highland areas, they’re hard to access, which makes it difficult for the law enforcement teams to locate them.

Will it be legalised in the future?

Although Ethiopia has realised the economic potential of industrial hemp, it seems unlikely that the law will change regarding cannabis use or sale. Even the use of medicinal cannabis probably won’t become legal any time soon.

However, there are cannabis users across the country; in urban and rural areas alike. Although Ethiopia is keen to shed its poverty-stricken past (and believes that ‘drug culture’ is a contributing factor to this poverty), it shows no signs of following the example of countries like South Africa and decriminalising the drug.

  • Disclaimer:
    While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide legal advice, as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

Comments

25 thoughts on “Cannabis in Ethiopia – Laws, Use, and History”

  1. Markos Teshome

    it is very true and I agree that policies against this drug should be tightened.

      1. So very true…Cannabis is legal in the USA in the majority of States and has been scientifically proven to be a treatment greater than Big Pharma drugs. Not withstanding the Medicinal benefits there are also 10,000 industrial benefits to the production of the Cannabis plant (Hemp).

        History tells us that Cannabis was stigmatised by ‘special interest’ parties and has since grown into one of the biggest lies ever told. If Ethiopia was availed to the industrial benefits of HEMP and by product production, Ethiopia would be a PwoerHouse to rival any nation in the West…and there lies the problem…the Western Governments.

        The African Continent is the wealthiest on the planet in terms of Precious Metals, Gems, Oil deposits, Water deposits and rare Minerals. How is it then that its people are factually the poorest people in the world? Where’s the money going? |

      1. Mariam Yohannes

        …. watch this please : https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uy-VZHqwWNM

        Cannabis Prohibition has RACIST beginnings in the U.S. – Ethiopia began eradicating the plant in the mid-90s – the government at the time, WITHOUT ANY SCIENTIFIC PROOF or RESEARCH, made it ILLEGAL, just like the US & other countries followed suit as well.

        There are health benefits with Cannabis & it has been used for medicinal purposes across many civilizations. Not just that, it was also used for Spiritual & Recreational purposes Too. & GUESS WHAT?!?! …. You Cannot Overdose With CANNABIS …. ALCOHOL is KNOWN to cause Liver Damage if one Drinks too much in one sitting or can kill you by Alcohol Poisoning.

  2. Ethiopian weed activists

    Marijuana is often associated with other harsh cocaine because people are misinformed by everyone. They should legalize Marijuana and exporters should be taxed and growers encouraged not engaged. They should do more research on medicinal use of it and be one of the first to implement a commercially accepted “drug”.

    1. @rasta love

      I completley agree ; cannabis should be legalized !!!instead this paranoid people are criticizing it for their own problems

  3. Hahahha weed is for the rich in Ethiopia.. I would blaze it up with some of the governors and we would laugh at the locals getting punished because they are defenceless. If you have money you can do whatever the hell you want in that country. Ethiopia is China’s bitch.

    1. so is USA, most of Europe, all of east Asia and pretty much the rest of Africa as well.

    2. Mebatsion Tesfaye

      😂😂😂 ur full of lies u know that right weed in Ethiopia is both for poor n rich we blaze together we don’t discriminate

  4. Issac Yesuf

    These Ethiopian Marihuana Laws are more than likely directly linked to Ethiopia’s eligibility for accepting foreign funding and military aid. Before taking funds, laws and policies must reflect those that abide by the lenders’.
    What astonishes me is that this plant/crop is non-toxic. It has never caused an overdose/ death. In fact this commodity is a direct competitor to toxic crude oil and chemical companies’ synthetic fibers, timber/paper, cotton fibers/ textiles among others. To treat a plant that is literally a revolutionary, renewable, and sustainable resource, as if it is only a useless weed is illogical. The seed/nut of cannabis is considered a superfood because it is densely packed with nutrients to edify a healthy diet.
    The prohibition of a crop that can help feed, heal, clothe, shelter, fuel and so much more is an injustice and a crime that has been committed against the people of the Ethiopia and the whole world.
    Ethiopians should legalize cannabis hemp and capitalize upon the value of this commodity as the modern world becomes more educated about its uses.
    The USA prohibits marihuana/cannabis but the hypocrites say one thing and do another…
    US Government owns patent# 6630507, Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.
    US National Library of Medicine 779 worldwide pubmed articles on cannabinoids including THC curing cancer.
    http://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed&cmd=DetailsSearch&term=cancer+cannabinoid

    Eight known* Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) patients, four of whom are still living as of Apr. 18, 2014:
    http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000257

  5. Terrific Study. Great sense of balance! Turkana Boy ? would be pleased ? In India we are in a huge debate about a film ? yet to be released called UDTA PUNJAB. Catch the vestiges of the discussion ?

  6. Where the Pantagruelion grows!

    “Make the most you can of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere.” – George Washington

    “Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.” – Thomas Jefferson

    “Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica.” – Abraham Lincoln

    Your incense, myrrh, or ebony:
    Come here a nobler plant to see;
    And carry home at any rate,
    Some seed, that you may propagate.
    If in your soil it takes, to heaven
    A thousand-thousand thanks be given
    And say, with France, it goodly goes
    Where the Pantagruelion grows!
    — Francois Rabelais

    Without this herb, kitchens would be detested, the tables of dining rooms abhorred, although there were great plenty and variety of most dainty and sumptuous dishes of meat set down upon them; and the choicest beds also, how richly so ever adorned with gold, silver, amber, ivory, prophyry, and the mixture of most precious metals, would without it yield no delight or pleasure to the reposer in them. Without it millers could nei­ther carry wheat, nor any other kind of corn, to the mill; nor would they be able to bring back from thence flour, or any other sort of meal whatsoever. Without it, how could the papers and writs of lawyers’ clients be brought to the bar? Seldom is the mortar, lime or plaster brought to the workhouse without it. Without it how should the water be got out of the draw well? In what case would tabellions, notaries, copists, makers of counterparts, writers, clerks, secretaries, scriviners, and such like persons be without it? Were it not for it, what would become of the toll-rates and rent-rolls? Would not the noble art of print­ing perish without it? Whereof could the chassis or paper windows be made? How should the bells be rung ? The altars of Isis are adorned therewith; the pastophorian priests are therewith clad and accourted; and whole human nature covered and wrapped therein, at its first position and production in, and into this world; all the lanific trees of Seres, the bumbast and cotton bushes in the territories near the Persian sea, and gulph of Bengala: the Arabian swans, together with the plants of Maltha, do not all of them cloath, attire and apparel so many persons as this herb alone. Soldiers are now-a-days much better sheltered under it, than they were in former times, when they lived in tents covered with skins. It overshadows the theatres and amphitheatres from the heat of the scorching sun; it begirdeth and encompasseth forests, chases, parks, copses and groves, for the pleasure of hunters; it descendeth into the salt and fresh of both sea and river waters, for the profit of fishers; by it are boots of all sizes, buskins, gamashes, brodkins, gambados, shoes, pumps, slippers, and every cobbled ware wrought and made steadable for the use of man; by it the butt and rover-bows are strung, the crossbows bended, and the slings made fixed; and, as if it were an herb every whit as holy as the verveine, and reverenced by ghosts, spirits, hobgoblins, fiends and phantoms, the bodies of deceased men are never buried without it.

    “Gargantua and Pantagruel,” a 16th century extravagant comedy-novel written by the notorious author François Rabelais.

  7. Do you know that the Marijuana that people were smoking back in the day is not the same as the marijuana that people are smoking today. That is because it gets stronger and stronger every time.

    1. KnowsBetter

      Uh, that is in fact is not true AT ALL! Peak potency was 1991, it’s been going downhill ever since. Even if the herb looks caked with resin it could still test lower numbers. I see this all the time with over-hybridized plants bred for looks and terpene production.

  8. Marijuana is a drug. Your body doesn’t need it but it reacts to it. Food is not a drug. Your body needs it. Marijuana contains a number of chemicals that bind with receptors of several regulation systems our brain uses to project a wide range of emotional and logical responses. This is the “high”.

    But think of it this way. Marijuana’s physically relaxing and mentally uplifting effects have obviously found their way to legal pharmacies to be sold by prescription. (Just like, you know, er… painkillers?) It has pharmacological benfits but also potential side effects. Yes when you think of it, it’s entirely a “drug” in that sense too. Keep out of reach of children.

    If the idea that cannabis is a mellow drug with completely managable side effects (much of the paranoia would be gone had it been as easy to blaze one as it was to light up a cigarette in public) is too much for you to handle.

    What I think is, marijuana should be sold in pharmacies, over the counter. Our pharmacists should be equipped with knowledge about dosage, associated diet and common effects of each of the strains and breeds in the shop. It wouldn’t hurt if they could recommend the best munchies for each variety too. You see, it’s fine for people to become addicted to coffee, sex, tech and media, cigarettes, alcohol, people and junk food, but the social reaction is negative when it comes to weed, at least it is in Ethiopia.

    There’s a thing called “cannabis use disorder” as kind of the little brother to cannabis addiction. Cannabis addiction is rare. But saying someone has “cannabis use disorder” is as evil as fat-shaming a kid eating ice cream. Pointing fingers and going: “he probably has ‘sugar use disorder’.” Pure evil.

  9. I think its better this way self control is what people need this days and weed is a drug that fully inhabitants you hole body that ist safe or right

  10. I think we should not be confronted to the government about something that is good in people life health and no harm
    So why

  11. Mariamawit Yohannes

    …. watch this please : https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uy-VZHqwWNM

    Cannabis Prohibition has RACIST beginnings in the U.S. – Ethiopia began eradicating the plant in the mid-90s – the government at the time, WITHOUT ANY SCIENTIFIC PROOF or RESEARCH, made it ILLEGAL, just like the US & other countries followed suit as well.

    There are health benefits with Cannabis & it has been used for medicinal purposes across many civilizations. Not just that, it was also used for Spiritual & Recreational purposes Too. & GUESS WHAT?!?! …. You Cannot Overdose With CANNABIS …. ALCOHOL is KNOWN to cause Liver Damage if one Drinks too much in one sitting or can kill you by Alcohol Poisoning.

    PLUS, the BEST WAY to END Drug – Cannabis is TECHNICALLY a PLANT ? with medicinal properties that can be used as an Analgesic Drug – is to REGULATE it by bringing it in the Market…. $10 Billion Potential is AMAZING, but how will the money be allocated to achieve Ethiopia’s goal for the country & its people?!?!

    There is soo much that needs to be done in Africa as a whole such as protecting people who invest in their pursuit for a better life in their country. ….
    Let me give an Example of how we can achieve this through a Scenario.

    A woman decides that she wants to build her dream home in Ethiopia & she puts down payment for the Builders & Engineers to start building…. after about a week, she notices that barely work has been done & the Work is behind schedule…. she never saw them again. How can she be protected if there’s No Ground-Work set in place to Recoup the Stolen Down Payment & prevent this from happening again – a Solution would be to have a database that stores a Company’s Certification & so if this were to happen, they will get caught & Forfeit their Business license.

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