Ghana has seen incremental shifts in forest policy, legislation and management approaches in the last one hundred years. Information on forests through time and knowledge of policy evolution, laws, and participants and institutions involved in the policy process is important to deal with complexities associated with timber legality and trade. This paper reviews the evolution of forest policies and regulations on timber legality in Ghana using a historical discourse analysis. It characterises the regulatory discourses of successive forest policies and legislations and the extent to which policy and policy instruments, particularly on trade of legal timber, reflect the hard, soft, and smart regulatory discourses. The paper shows that until the mid-1980s Ghana’s timber regulation policies had been characterized largely by state control using top-down management and hard law regulations. The mid-1980s and the early 1990s represent an interface between the softening of state control and the emergence of de-regulation and soft law discourses. The 1994 Forest and Wildlife Policy reflected this interface calling for improved collaboration with communities and market-driven strategies to optimize forest use. The post-1994 period was confronted with how to approach supply of legal timber with illegal chainsaw timber production posing the greatest challenge. The Voluntary Partnership Agreement, as a market-based regulation instrument emerged and its negotiation, ratification and implementation has embodied both hard and soft law measures, reflecting the ‘smart’ regulatory discourse model. To date, the VPA has been the most significant trade instrument that has institutionalized the mix of soft and hard regulatory discourses.