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Cannabis Bill a “No Show” at Scheduled Parliamentary Hearing as State Lawyers Buy More Time to Sort Out Conceptual Thinking and Fix Many Defects

Cannabis Bill a “No Show” at Scheduled Parliamentary Hearing as State Lawyers Buy More Time to Sort Out Conceptual Thinking and Fix Many Defects

Cannabis disappeared off Parliament’s agenda today and the scheduled Portfolio Committee meeting dealt with other matters. Cannabiz Africa understands State lawyers have been given more time on the understanding that they take more serious account of private stakeholder submissions. The knock-on effect, given the processes of the Legislature and the political distraction of next year’s elections, is that there is a strong likelihood that South Africa won’t see any meaningful cannabis legislation enacted this year. And maybe not even next. Unless the Justice Department has a “Halleluljah” moment.

Brett Hilton-Barber

2 June 2023 at 12:00:00

The Department of Justice appears to have bought more time to try and repair the mess that they have made of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill. On 24 May 2023, chairperson of Parliament’s Justice and Correctional Services Portfolio Committee, Bulelani Magwanashe (pictured above), gave state legislators six working days to sort out contradictions and inconsistencies in the Bill and they were meant to report back to Parliament on Friday 2 June 2023. 

Cannabiz Africa understands that state lawyers managed to buy more time to work through the Bill as the Committee’s agenda for the day had nothing to do with cannabis. Instead, the Committee discussed a draft budget vote, who should be nominated for the Human Rights Commission and amendments required for land claim laws. 

And no public explanation why proceedings had changed. 

Cannabiz Africa sources indicate that backroom discussions have bought the state legal architects more time and that they have been instructed to take the public submissions more seriously – not just the hemp provisions which were the subject of last week’s commetary, but previous submissions as well. Magwanashe was at pain to point out to presenters after they had spoken that any previous submissions made would also be taken into account.

As reported previously, MP’s have been put in a difficult position by state lawyers, who have singularly failed to marry the 2018 Constitutional Court judgement with Government policy. They are trying to rush through a Bill that it is so flawed that unless it is significantly stripped down to the issues based soley on the Concourt ruling, the Act will undoubtedly be taken to court. Fields of Green for All said as much.

As presenters pointed out during two days of hearings last week, the Bill reflected a concerning lack of conceptual and legal awareness on the part of the Legislature. Almost five years after the Concourt decision to legalize the private consumption of cannabis, and almost three years after it failed to meet the deadline it was given, it is unlikely that an unchallenged cannabis law will see the light of day this year.  

Former ANC leader Max Ozinksy said it was clear that the State was not being serious about cannabis, adding that the ruling party had not put out a single policy document on cannabis and this lack of guidance at a national level was adding to Parliamentary confusion.

For starters, as the Dagga Party's Jeremy Acton put it: The Bill is conceptually flawed, rooted in prohibitionist ideology, and that unless the Justice Department experiences a conversion of Damascean proportions during the course of this year, and lets go of the plant from the security cluster, it will forever be at odds with the country’s cannabis community. 

There are fewer than 50 Parliamentary working days left this year if one takes into account recess time. The Committee had hoped to sign off on the Bill by 9 June 2023 and send it on to the National Council of Provinces, which will then have to have its own round of public participation hearings in all provinces across the country before making the necessary accommodations and bringing the Bill into law. 

Given that next year the country will have a general election somewhere around the middle of 2024 and politicians will spend the first part of the year on the campaign trail, when the seventh Parliament is voted in, it’s probable that there will be little significant legislative output as coalitions are thrashed out and new MP’s settle in. There is a likelihood that the composition of the Committee may change substantially, it is rumoured that Senior State advocate Sarel Robbertse may retire by next year, and, hey, before you know it, we’re back to scratch with the prospect of further public hearings for the new Committee, a new legal drafting team etc etc.  Groundhog Day!

No wonder Friends of Hemp of South Africa co-founder, M Ayanda Bam, is pessimistic that there will be any meaningful cannabis legislation passed in the next three years, on the balance of current probabilities, his view may perhaps be considered optimistic.  

Hemp farmer Natie Ferreira suggests that we should have a Cannabis for All Purposes Act and that even if this takes five to seven years to produce, Parliament should craft world-class cannabis legislation that would do justice to our Constitution. In the meantime, he said, treat adult-use like alcohol, regulate the plant as an agricultural commodity and legislate in the sector in which the cannabis product was to be used.

On the other hand, Cosatu supported most MPs in their urgency to pass an amended, constitutionally-repaired Cannabis Bill into law this year, saying the current regulatory grey zone was making life difficult for its union members in police, prisons and health services.  It supports the establishment of a commercial framework for cannabis and hemp as soon as possible.

However, most other presenters urged Parliament to slow down and get the conceptual thinking right before passing defective legislation into law – and in the meantime, the common threads from presenters were to 

Many presenters pointed to the fact that the Cannabis Bill was totally out of kilter with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s vision of an inclusive, job-creating cannabis economy that uplifted the rural poor and generated tax for the fiscus. 

As Lawyer Ricky Stone told MPs, the Bill would actually set-back the Executive’s cannabis strategy and called on the Committee and the Justice Department to urgently meet with the President himself to align Government departments and chart the way forward.


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