Cannabis in Madagascar – Laws, Use, and History

The Madagascan flag and a lizard moving towards a cannabis plant

Cannabis (or zamal in the local dialect) is illegal in Madagascar. However, despite the law, it continues to be used and cultivated widely across the country, particularly in poorer rural communities. Cannabis has been used by the Malagasy people for centuries and has historically played a vital part in their culture. It continues to do so today.

    • Capital
    • Antananarivo
    • Population
    • 31,500,000
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    • Illegal
    • Recreational cannabis
    • Illegal
    • Medicinal cannabis
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Cannabis laws in Madagascar

Can you possess and use cannabis in Madagascar?

It’s illegal to use or possess cannabis in Madagascar. Despite this fact, its usage is widespread across the country. Cannabis use is deeply ingrained in Malagasy culture and these days, around one in 10 people use it. This ranks the country as 14th in the world in terms of prevalence of cannabis consumption.

Penalties for using or possessing drugs of any kind are severe in Madagascar. If caught with cannabis, the offender may receive a lengthy prison sentence and a hefty fine. As a result, some people choose to use Huperzia instead, which offers similar but less pronounced effects, and more importantly, isn’t illegal.

Can you sell cannabis in Madagascar?

While cannabis usage is sometimes overlooked by the authorities in Madagascar, the sale or supply of the drug is not.

The Madagascan police force has attempted to address the problem of drug trafficking for years. 1998 was a notable year, as they seized over 12 MT of cannabis, and eradicated over 15 million plants. These eradications and seizures have continued almost every year since then.

Annual cannabis seizure amounts fluctuate from year to year but this is usually due to police efforts rather than any change in the trade itself. In 2001, 693 MT were seized; the following year, it went up to 1.744 MT. In 2006, however, the figure had dropped to just 7.6 MT. In 2010, the total amount of seized cannabis was only 0.77 MT.

It’s not clear why these figures are so disparate.

A cannabis plant growing inside

Can you grow cannabis in Madagascar?

It’s illegal to cultivate cannabis in Madagascar, but that doesn’t stop farmers from doing so anyway. The country’s poverty-stricken rural communities often rely on the cannabis industry to support their families, and as such, it’s widely grown in these areas.

The authorities regularly eradicate plantations. In 2018, 21,325 plants were destroyed. However, thanks to the country’s climate and dense forests, it’s relatively easy for farmers to avoid detection.

Malagasy authorities admit to not knowing where much of the cannabis ends up. A spokesman commented to “I do not believe that the Malagasy people consume every year this amount… some of this amount could be turned into cannabis oil.”

Is CBD legal in Madagascar?

The law makes no distinction between CBD and cannabis, despite the fact that CBD is low in THC and cannot produce a ‘high’. As a result, it’s illegal to use, sell or buy it.

The chemical formula of CBD next to a cannabis plant and three vials

Can cannabis seeds be sent to Madagascar?

Cannabis seeds are not differentiated from any other part of the plant, and are therefore illegal in the country. This means that they cannot be mailed through the post.

Medicinal cannabis in Madagascar

There is currently no medicinal cannabis programme in place in Madagascar.

A glass jar with a rolled joint inside and two measuring jars

Industrial hemp in Madagascar

Although cannabis is grown across the country, it isn’t legal to do so even if it’s hemp for industrial purposes. As such, it’s not permitted to cultivate hemp in Madagascar.

Rows of hemp growing in a field

Good to know

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

  • Most of the country’s cannabis is consumed domestically. Although some may be trafficked out of the country, it’s not believed to be a significant amount.
  • Madagascar is considered a hub for heroin, cocaine and cannabis trafficking. The drugs pass through from regions such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and South America.
  • The country has treatment programmes in place for those who are addicted to drugs, but these are not compulsory, and not offered as an alternative to other punishments.
  • Madagascar is the third highest country in Africa in terms of cannabis consumption among people aged 15 to 64. It currently has around 1.3 million consumers.

Cannabis history

Evidence suggests that cannabis has been growing in Madagascar for centuries. Archaeologists discovered cannabis pollen in central Madagascar that dates back to 300 CE, which is believed to be when the Malagasy people first arrived on the island.

The first documented evidence of cannabis was written in 1661. In this document it was called rongony and ahetsmanga ahetsboule. The text explains how cannabis was mixed with tobacco, then smoked using antler-crafted water pipes. However, by the 1700s, the antler pipes had been replaced by bamboo dry pipes. Use of these pipes continued until the 1900s; though at this point, snuffing was more popular than smoking.

Madagascar was unusual in that cannabis was banned fairly early on. In 1870, the colonial Merina royalty forbade its use, regarding it as an obstacle to the process of ‘civilising’ the country.

Traditional uses

It’s believed that the Malagasy people historically used cannabis for a variety of different purposes, both medicinal and spiritual. At gatherings it was consumed socially, though there isn’t much evidence that it was otherwise used recreationally.

To this day, it is still used by Madagascar’s Malagasy people, to treat health conditions such as fever and vomiting, and also to protect the home from evil spirits. Cannabis is also often planted close to other crops, to ward off parasitic insects. Sometimes, it’s even used to treat animals, especially in the prevention of infectious diseases.

Attitudes towards cannabis

These days, cannabis is widely used across the country. In fact, it’s estimated that 9.1% of the population use it, which is considerably higher than the global rate of prevalence.

Traditional use seems to be declining. Now, Madagascar’s people are using the drug recreationally, particularly in the rural areas, where it’s easier to avoid detection.

Madagascar cannabis

Though no-one knows for sure, it’s believed that the indica-hybrid strain Madagascar, originates from the country it takes its name from. This potent plant is known to induce sleepiness, and has a strong, distinctive taste, combined with a floral aroma. The nugs are usually green with bright orange or golden hairs.

Cannabis grows abundantly in the wild, and is a commonplace sight in the countryside. The main areas of cultivation are the northern provinces of Mahajanga and Antsiranana. Here, the tropical climate ensures the plants can flourish. The southern provinces of Toliara and Fianarantsoa also provide a good environment for growth, thanks to the arid conditions.

Will cannabis be legalised in the future?

There’s been no indication that Madagascar’s government considers legalising cannabis either recreationally or medicinally. Since 1990, they’ve worked collaboratively with the government of Mauritius in a bid to address the drug trafficking problem. In light of this, it seems unlikely they would be interested in legalisation.

The same applies for industrial hemp, though given that many other countries are cashing in on the ‘green rush’, perhaps Madagascar may start to explore the financial benefits of legalising it. After all, the country’s climate and soil have already proved ideal for growing the plant in abundance, and the cultivation of hemp could provide this nation with a chance to address its poverty problem.

  • 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.


1 thought on “Cannabis in Madagascar – Laws, Use, and History”

  1. Alex Brennan

    Hi Seshata, another fine article from you! I read it with great interest. I have heard of ‘zamal’ before but i thought it was a strain name rather than a general term for cannabis in that region. Which brings me to my question, do you have any info on actual strains that are grown in Madagascar? Info like strain names, genetics, indica/sativa and who brought cannabis to the island and when?

    thanks in advance for any info you may have!

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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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    Maurice Veldman

    Maurice Veldman is a member of the Dutch Association of Criminal Lawyers and one of the Netherlands’ most notable cannabis lawyers. With 25 years’ experience in the field, his knowledge of criminal and administrative law supports cannabis sellers and hemp producers by addressing the inequalities between the individual and the state.
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