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‘There are Still Mountains and Valleys to Climb’ Ramaphosa’s Cannabis Advisor Tells Despairing Cannabis Stakeholders

‘There are Still Mountains and Valleys to Climb’ Ramaphosa’s Cannabis Advisor Tells Despairing Cannabis Stakeholders

Garth Strachan won’t be drawn on how soon Government can sort out the regulatory nightmare preventing the cannabis economy from getting off the ground, but his private sector colleague, Ayanda Bam, reckons it will take another two to three years.

Brett Hilton-Barber

6 September 2022 at 10:00:00

“I don’t want to cut a stick which will be used to beat me on the back” was Garth Strachan’s  response to a question when he was asked how long he thought it would take for a proper South African regulatory framework to be put in place. 

But it is apparent that the prospect of a quick solution to the woes of cannabis stakeholders is receding by the day: a regulatory framework for the commercial trade in cannabis is receding by the day.

Even with the Strachan’s recent appointment, the process could take another two to three years. That’s according to Friends of Hemp co-founder, Ayanda Bam who appeared with Strachan on a Cheeba webinar on 31 August 2022, entitled “The South African Cannabis Industry. Where to From Here?”

The short answer, unfortunately, is nowhere fast, and recent developments have complicated Strachan’s mission before he’s even gotten out of the starting block. Just three months into the job, he’s found that he’s already doing damage control rather than crafting policy as the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Bill of 2022 continues to criminalize cannabis.

In his first interview after his appointment, Strachan told Radio 702 that sanctions against cannabis users put a burden on the criminal justice system but that there was a lot of resistance from the Justice Department.

“Instead of dealing with these petty crimes, it should be freed up to deal with more serious issues. But if you speak to people in the criminal justice system they have a different view; they have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards all criminal activity, including the sale of small quantities of cannabis. This is not an easy sector. It’s a very complicated sector; we have to get alignment” he said at the time.

Instead the DoJ has gone ahead and released the new version of the Drugs Trafficking Bill which still includes cannabis as a scheduled substance. Strachan’s now faced with having to try and persuade the DoJ to remove cannabis as a scheduled narcotic from the new Bill along with anyone else from the general public who has until 16 September 2022 to make a submission to Parliament on the Bill.

Strachan told the Cheeba webinar that his main priorities were to try and fix the regulatory environment, include traditional growers in the framework and move the regulatory burden higher up the value chain.

“There are lots of mountains and valleys still to climb” he said, “But we need to start shifting the focus of regulation away from cultivation to processing. Regulation should encompass the whole of the plant but we need to create new demand pathways.

Strachan was appointed as a consultant to the President’s Operation Vulundlela (the fast-tracking of large infrastructure projects) after presenting a coherent plan of action to get South Africa’s fledgling cannabis economy off the ground.

Working closely with Ayanda Bam’s Private Sector Working Group during the latter half of last year and early this year, Strachan understood all too clearly that the greatest inhibitor in realizing the President’s vision of cannabis being a job-creator was the current regulatory framework which classifies cannabis as a narcotic.

The core piece of prohibitive legislation is the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 1992, which is problematic simply in that as long as cannabis appears on Schedule 2 of the Act as a drug, there can be no commercial trade in it or related substances. And until such time the Act is amended or repealed, no mainstream financial institution can fund a cannabis business or buy unlicensed product without falling foul of the law.

Strachan, a former Trade and Industry DDG, who also has “struggle credentials”, understands the concept of master plans and regulatory frameworks as he put together SA’s automotive master plan.

He has said that personally he would prefer one over-arching piece of legislation governing cannabis and hemp rather than the current piecemeal legislative approach. Ironically, the closest realization of his vision is being put together by the private sector, not the state legal department.

The PSWG legal team, a group of top legal minds and cannabis activists, in putting together a comprehensive over-arching piece of cannabis legislation, known informally as the Webber Wentzel document, which could be introduced as a Bill if there was a mechanism to do so.

Strachan is also well aware of the comprehensive Full Spectrum policy document put together by Fields of Green for All. Between these two documents and the input from traditional growers, users and the Rastafari community, he’s got a pretty good idea as to how a vibrant cannabis economy could realistically get off the ground. However, he said the process of getting government departments into alignment “was complicated”.

During the webinar, Bam said he expected a new framework governing the commercial trade in cannabis could still take another two to three years.

“I’ve got excited a number of times but I’m not optimistic” he said. “The nitty gritty will take a long time even though there is a faction in Government pushing it along. In the meantime we have got to draw a line and stop cannabis being a concern of the criminal justice system. There needs to be a set of interim measures”.

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