Hemp permit system worse under DALRRD
Red-tape in issuing hemp permits has cost the country another hemp-growing season. There is a growing concern among prospective hemp farmers that Government’s efforts to streamline the hemp application process has actually made matters worse and that unanimous calls to raise the THC limit in hemp from 0,2% to 1% have fallen on deaf ears.
The Cannabis Research Institute (CRI) has established a ‘cannabis complaints hotline’ and is liaising with relevant authorities, including SAHPRA, to pass on the complaints it receives. In terms of the hemp industry one of the major problems that has emerged is that excessive bureaucracy may have cost the country another hemp growing season.
The CRI’s senior researcher, Bella Dorrington, told Cannabiz Africa on 20 May 2022 that there were several serious concerns about the hemp permit application process, particularly now that SAPS is involved. Previously, hemp permits were issued by SAHPRA, but this changed in October 2021 when the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) became the issuing authority.
Farmers now have to get the signature of the local police station commander on their hemp permit application forms, which stakeholders have pointed out, opens up an avenue of potential corruption, as well as over-bureaucratizing the process.
One of the country’s leading hemp farmers, Natie Ferreira of Tamatie, wrote an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa to express his frustration at Government inertia. He has now waited almost five months for the police to approve his permit, even though they had all the requisite paperwork. This has put his third season of growing hemp in jeopardy. For the previous two seasons he grew hemp under a SAHPRA license. Now his application is gathering dust in a police station while time ticks away.
“What on earth is an agricultural crop still sitting within the criminal justice system?” he asked.
Lack of synergy between Government departments is a major complaint
Dorrington says Ferreira’s experience is shared by many other cultivators, one of whom wondered whether any hemp permits had been issued at all under the DALRRD regime. DALRRD has not yet responded to Cannabiz Africa’s inquiry as to how many permits have actually been issued. She says a major complaint raised by hemp stakeholders was the lack of synergy between government departments, particularly between Health, Agriculture and Justice.
“This is hurting industry development” says Dorrington. “We are getting complaints that there is too much paperwork required to source and ship genetics both locally and internationally. People are saying there is no clear guidance from Government and too much back and forth between DALLRD and SAHPRA; their experience is that there is no real willingness to assist and no quick turn-around times on responses”.
She said other problems prospective hemp farmers had raised with the CRI included:
- A lack of developmental funding through grants or such vehicles given the amount of upfront capital expenditure required to be compliant;
- Ambiguous laws in the sector that made it difficult to raise investment funding;
- Prospective farmers unable to sustain the costs incurred with compliance while SAHPRA or DALRRD considered license and permit applications
- Small scale farmers say they cannot compete with the production scale of their commercial counterparts;
- Prohibitively high security costs for both hemp and medical cannabis facilities;
- The struggle to find and source registered genetics;
- Difficulty in finding qualified workers, highlighting the need for ‘on-the-job’ training.
Dorrington: 5 short-term interventions that could make a difference
Dorrington says there are short term interventions that could be made that would alleviate some of the problems raised by the cannabis community.
- “Remove cannabis from the Drugs Act. If the plant is not a prohibited item, there is more freedom in making products, developing new links in the value chain such as training, finance, investment, research and other fields”.
- “Register cannabis as a crop in terms of the Plant Improvement Act. This would allow plant breeders right’s to be registered and protection of IP for foreign breeding companies. It could even attract breeders to SA”;
- “Go the same way as Switzerland and only regulate cannabis above 1% THC with anything below being considered unregulated. Their research showed that less than 1% THC is completely harmless”.
- Regulatory Authorities should commit themselves to stricter time-lines as undue delays have significant financial implication on licensees”;
- “Government should offer incentives and support to small scale farmers, and here a communal standard would be beneficial so that multiple farmers can ship consignment together”