Though Mike Tyson’s hometown of Brooklyn, New York sits over 7,700 miles away from Malawi, the country’s government has decided the world’s youngest heavyweight boxing champion should be the face of their marijuana campaign. The Agricultural Minister of Malawi, Lobin Low, sent Tyson a letter inviting him to be the new gig, hoping to attract investors and bring in tourists. That letter reads in part,  “On 31st August 2020, the Cannabis Regulation Act, 2022 came into force.

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This created opportunities for the legal cultivation of cannabis for both medicinal and industrial purposes and offering the country an opportunity to diversify the country’s agricultural production and potentially generating the much-needed foreign exchange. In spite of all these perceived benefits, Malawi may not go it alone as the industry is complex requiring collaboration.

I would therefore like to appoint you, Mr. Mike Tyson, as Malawi’s Cannabis Branch Ambassador.  Please accept, the assurances of my highest consideration.” The Malawian Agricultural Ministry says it’s working with the US Cannabis Association on the deal.  So far, there’s no word on whether Tyson has accepted the offer. His representative at one point said he had not received the letter, and the Ministry of Agriculture said at the same time that it’s waiting patiently for a response. 

Malawi’s Cannabis Laws

The landlocked nation in Southeastern Africa is most known for its diverse wildlife and clear waters in a massive lake that attracts divers and boaters to resorts. Malawi’s cannabis laws have been progressing for more than half a decade. They started by legalizing industrial hemp; nearly five years later, in 2020, the country passed a bill to decriminalize cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes. Adult-use marijuana for recreational purposes remains outlawed. 

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Malawi’s liberal approach toward cannabis is not unique on its continent. Neighboring countries of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Lesotho have all legalized medicinal cannabis, and South Africa decriminalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use in 2018. Landscape of Ruo Path in the Lujeri Tea Estate leading to Mount Mulanje Source: Shutterstock[/caption]

Malawi’s government hopes the new law will bring more funding into the area. With a poverty rate over 50%, the World Bank ranked Malawi as one of the poorest nations on the globe in 2019, saying it remains so “despite making significant economic and structural reforms to sustain economic growth.”

Agriculture already makes up for about 80% of the nation’s jobs, and tobacco serves as its main export at 13% of the country’s GDP and 60% of its foreign exchange earnings. The same dry and hot conditions that make it a good place to farm tobacco are what could allow the cannabis plant to thrive. 

Iron Mike

Mike Tyson began fighting when his age had just reached double-digits, trying to combat bullying in his violent neighborhood. By age 13, he’d had more than 30 run-ins with police. He was able to turn that around with the help of a new counselor who became his adoptive father, training in boxing until he decided to take that on as a full-time career. 

During that fighting career, he was probably best-known for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear off during a match in 1997. That happened two years after his release from prison for a 1992 rape conviction.  The acting director of the Center for Public Accountability believes that despite time served and debt paid, that rape conviction should bar Tyson as a representative. He asked for a less controversial representative and said in a letter, “The CPA is failing to comprehend why Malawi would want to have a convicted rapist as its brand ambassador, more especially, at this time, when efforts to curb violence against women are part of the government agenda. 

As a nation that is working tirelessly to stem out gender-based violence, we cannot be seen to associate or celebrate people of Mike Tyson caliber as a face of promoting any of our products.” Other people, including folks at the Malawian Ministry of Agriculture, believe the past is the past.

The Ministry’s spokesperson, Gracian Lungu, said in a statement, “Malawi as a nation believes that Mr. Tyson is a right and reformed person as he was released on parole. The moral appeal by some quarters, to continue holding Mr. Tyson to a wall of moral incapacity doesn’t hold water.” The Malawian Minister of Gender has been supportive of Tyson as the brand ambassador as well.

Gender Minister Patricia Kaliati told CNN, "It's about business, (and) economic business of cannabis… We look for the prominent people, the decision makers who can say a thing which can be recognized internationally. She added, “He's not going to be working with the minister of gender on issues to do with women and children."

Tyson and Cannabis

Nowadays, the 55-year-old fighter-turned-business-mogul has branched out, appearing in Broadway, writing a best-selling book, and launching his own cannabis business.  Tyson has long been a major proponent of marijuana, saying that after two surgeries and two decades of taking hits, it helped him to take fewer pills and still feel healthier and more clear.

He began a company called Tyson Holistic Holdings and started selling a CBD beverage called Dwiink and a strong indica strain of marijuana flower called The Toad.   Then, he opened up Tyson Ranch, which he intends to be a 420-acre cannabis resort including spas, ledges, “glamping” (glamorous camping), and the world’s biggest lazy river. Tyson also uses the ranch as a space to grow and then research cannabis. The cannabis products and ranch are recorded to rake in $500,000 a month in revenue, after a $40,000 weed bill for Tyson and his friends.

The boxing star also hosts music festivals and wants to create a school called Tyson University, where people can learn about agriculture as it relates to marijuana flower. And now, he’s starting up Tyson 2.0 in partnership with Columbia Care, one of the largest medical marijuana operators in the North American cannabis industry. That brand will sell pre-rolls, 3.5 gram jars of flower, and one-ounce bags that are already priced at $89.95.