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“Government Needs to Take This By the Balls and Have Some Guts”

“Government Needs to Take This By the Balls and Have Some Guts”

Cannabis stakeholders express dismay at Government’s lack of urgency in dealing with cannabis reform. During a webinar hosted by the Cannabis Organization University Pretoria (COUP), Cheeba Africa's Trenton Birch said the Government’s approach to cannabis reform was a disgrace and renewed the call for urgent “interim measures” to stop criminalizing traditional growers.

Brett Hilton-Barber

27 October 2022 at 06:00:00

Cheeba Africa’s Trenton Birch has called for Government to take urgent interim measures to stop criminalizing traditional growers. He told a Cannabis Organization University of Pretoria (COUP) webinar that Government’s refusal to take cannabis reform seriously was a “disgrace” and warned of social unrest in the Eastern Cape as traditional growers were marginalized. 

His fellow panelists agreed that the Cannabis Master Plan appears to have run out of steam and that the private sector once again needs to step up the pressure.

During the webinar on 26 October 2022, it became clear that the public/private sector working group on cannabis policy has broken down and all panelists agreed that Government’s approach to legalizing cannabis was piecemeal, incompetent and lacked coherence.

The webinar was hosted by COUP’s Mark Wegerif and was entitled ‘Realising the Development Potential of Cannabis in South Africa’. The discussion was hamstrung by the fact that the Drugs and Drugs Trafficking Act continues to criminalize cannabis and as Wegerif pointed out, reform is being guided by a “prohibitionist mindset”.

The biggest problem with South Africa’s fledgling cannabis policy said panelist Sibusiso Xaba of the ACA Group, was that other countries had developed their frameworks around public health schemes, we have created an export-only medical cannabis market. He said the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act continued to outlaw cannabis and the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill appeared to have got lost in the system.

While acknowledging that much had been done in creating a regulatory environment for cannabis, Xaba said “medical cannabis has been the biggest disappointment in terms of potential that hasn’t been unlocked”.

“Israel, Germany and Australia have embraced cannabis and the laws they making are centred around making medical cannabis available to their people. Israel already has 120 000 registered medical cannabis patients and the Australian market is growing by about 10 000 patients a month. Licensed companies there have a domestic market to build on and the Australian government is providing funding for research. IP is being developed and bought to market, whereas South Africa and many other African countries have legalized cannabis for export only” he said.

Xaba said South Africa had not yet developed a monograph on cannabis – the ‘template’ for the plant that would serve as an industry standard. “Neither do we have a supply chain mechanism where local growers can sell to local pharmacies” he said.

“Growers grow for the recreational market in South Africa and recognition needs to be given to that” said Xaba, who suggested that Government “quantify the local market and then take steps to put it into legality”

Birch, said South Africa should adopt a dual approach of developing both domestic and international markets. He said that while exports might be the key drivers of revenue and employment, “urgent interim measures” needed to be put in place to stop criminalizing traditional growers.

“If we don’t deal with the Eastern Cape problem we will have social unrest” he said. “This should be the Government’s priority!”

He said Mpondoland was sitting on a cannabis stockpile because “SAHPRA licensees are putting stock on the local market through the back door as they can’t get their offtake agreements right” and that this was affecting the ability of legacy growers to make a living.

Birch pointed out how fast Germany was developing its cannabis policy and that targets and timelines were in place there, whereas this was lacking in South Africa even though.

Government needs to take this thing by the balls and have some guts” he said. “We need an interim solution to allow businesses to trade; countries like Colombia and Thailand are taking bold steps. We should be doing the same. We have the solutions as an industry, and it’s a disgrace that Government is not taking it seriously.

“We need to get plants in the ground to stop people from starving; we need to make th licensing regime easier, set standards, remove barriers to entry”.

Another panelist, Gordon institute of Business Science’s (GIBBS) Motshedisi Mathibe bemoaned the lack of “noise” coming from the Government and said the private sector should continue to engage with Government on research and funding even though the private sector working group initiative had collapsed.

“We are apparently the fourth largest illegal producer of cannabis in the world” she said “and all that revenue is going into the black market. That’s the money Mpondoland brings into the economy and how people make a living. Why aren’t they included in the discussions (about the future of cannabis)?

“Covid taught us that borders can close and we must be self-reliant. There should be a mechanism where licensed growers can partner with growers in rural areas”.

Researcher Wendell Moore said he had his doubts that Government would ever understand what transformative role cannabis could play in society because it’s concept of development was ideologically flawed. He pointed out that only corporates were benefitting from cannabis reform whereas “there needed to be more benefits for more people”.  He mused that “civil disobedience” was probably the only option open to cannabis stakeholders.

Xaba said that the cannabis community should look to the next general elections and get cannabis into the vote-catching agenda of political parties. “We should use elections to leverage cannabis legalization, like they did in Germany” he said.


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