Leading players in South Africa’s cannabis industry have taken the initiative in driving cannabis reform, using legal action and mass protest against government to force it to hold its side of the National Cannabis Master Plan (NCMB) bargain.
Lawfare comes to cannabis reform
A variety of organizations have launched separate legal actions against government and are preparing to mobilize more intensely in the face of mounting dysfunctionality between government departments trying to co-ordinate cannabis reform.
It became clear on 30 March 2021 that the responsibility for the NCMP has been transferred to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the Department of Health is being sidelined. But DARDD is not yet out of the starting blocks with neither a national mandate nor management structure.
In the process the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has been unfairly targeted as a racist stumbling block to unlocking the cannabis value chain for the benefit of the previously disadvantaged. It was the focus of a protest march by the Black Farmers Association of South Africa (BFOSA) who’ve threatened to lay criminal charges against the organization even though it is merely a regulatory authority and not a political entity.
Although SAHPRA’s CEO has come out fighting, the organization is clearly on an edge, primarily because it’s overwhelming national priority is to deal with the pressures of Covid-19.
Lawfare Out the Starting Blocks
In the meantime, Cannabiz Africa is aware of the following legal activities initiated by the private sector in order to wake government from its policy torpor:
- Lawyers representing private cannabis clubs have forced the state onto the back foot in the The Haze Club (THC) cannabis trafficking trial and there will be no prosecution pending clarity on the legality of PCCs, expected some-time in the middle of this year;
- The first indication that the NPA’s case was falling to pieces against THC was on Friday 23 April 2021, when they failed to submit a promised affidavit to lawyer Andrew MacPherson of; of Ward Brink Attorneys
- At the Wynberg Magistrates Court hearing on Monday, 26 April 2021 the state confirmed that it was withdrawing any objection to part of the application which essentially called for a halt of legal procedure against the THC personnel, pending higher court clarity;
- Schindlers Attorneys called on 30 March 2021 for an immediate executive order to halt cannabis arrests, which to date has elicited no official response;
- NCMP workshop co-ordinator Julius Jafta said he would take up with other government departments the halt of cannabis-related arrests but sounded less than convincing;
- The Cannabis Trade Association of Africa (CTAA) and a number of other organizations are challenging what they call SAHPRA’s arbitrary limits and restrictions when it comes to CBD products and this could end up in court in the next few months;
- There’s talk of another legal challenge underway by CBD product importers who have over R1,5 million worth of legal imports stuck at Durban port because of a misunderstanding between SAHPRA and Customs and Excise;
- A grouping of Eastern Cape cannabis growers is preparing to challenge the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill due to be heard in parliament later the year; at least another five organizations are likely to join the challenge;
- There’s been discussion that Eastern Cape lawyer Ricky Stone has been involved in putting together a class action against the South African Police Services for illegal spraying of cannabis crops which had severe health implications on Transkei communities;
The supreme irony is that a variety of business, civic, legal and other organizations who are hell bent on lawfare are merely trying to hold the government to its promises. Irony number two is half the protagonists are shooting at the wrong legal targets. SAHPRA in particular has become a convenient but misplaced sacrificial lamb for the intensity of emotions rising in the cannabis market.
Wait for how much SAPS is going to be sued for
However, there is likely to be an impending slew of court cases against the police for wrongful arrests relating to cannabis. Despite the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill proposing that marijuana-related cases be expunged from criminal records, police continue to pursue dealers and users with vigour.
The central figure that needs to be bought into line if cannabis reform is to proceed beyond Lawfare is police minister Bheki Cele, who has no understanding of government’s NCMP and what economic value that could unlock for the country.
In other contextual developments:
- South Africa’s own Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has been sidelined in his calls for cannabis reform to help contribute to the country’s deteriorating fiscus;
- The NCMP is bereft of answers to their pertinent questions, simply because government is terrified of the political consequences of legalizing adult use consumption other than what’s envisaged in the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill;
- The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill is not going to make it out the legal starting blocks because it is so riddled with legal contradictions that it will keep the legal fraternity comfortably liquid for the foreseeable future;
- Southern African countries are about to hit the international cannabis market big time in 2021; at least three tons of legal (mostly high THC strain) bud is on its way to Europe in the next few months;
- This represents a fraction of the 28 tons of illegal cannabis South Africa will export in 2021.