FGFA: Will The Real Cannabis Bill Come Forward Please
There was confusion last week as the deadline for the Cannabis Bill loomed. Fields of Green for All’s Leela Baer reports that conflicting versions of the Bill were being circulated.
Leela Baer, Fields of Green for All
20 October 2023 at 10:00:00
This report was first published by Fields of Green for All on 19 October 2023.
So, here we are again, awaiting the fourth and likely final round of Public Comments to the Portfolio Committee on the draft Cannabis for Private Purposes. Submissions to comment closed on Friday, 13 October.
The symbolism is not lost. Friday the 13th is an apt metaphor for a Bill haunted by troubled clauses and minds alike. It is out of this trouble that we see a new moon rising, hopefully one promising a good harvest for our many years of toil in unearthing a Constitutionally sound Cannabis Act.
FRIDAY THE 13TH
Much like the unlucky campers in a b-grade horror, Cannabis participants hoping to comment were left scrambling thanks to receiving no indication as to the correct version of the Bill to comment on. While the Parliamentary Monitoring Group has always kept the public up to date, the circulated Bill for submissions very closely resembled the very first version of the Bill public comments were invited on.
It took several participants from various representing civil society organisations like Fields of Green for ALL contacting Mr V Ramaano directly in order to obtain the correct copy. He finally sent out the correct version a few short days before submissions were due to the parties who enquired. This resulted in some preparing submissions for both versions of the draft Bill circulating around the time submissions were called.
This particular version of the draft Bill had been leaked in its incomplete form some weeks earlier. Containing only 15 pages, it does not resemble earlier versions of the Bill, which typically show the amended parts in a different text colour. Titled as a Working Document, the official version finally received from Ramaano contains 19 pages of promises, somewhat marred by ambiguities and denial of evidence.
The official responsible for the original 15-page leak is prone to contradicting their personal interests with that of their party. This, in conjunction with the Working Document’s appearance, had many sceptical about its validity in this round of Public Comments. Inquiry was made this past week to Ramaano as to which Bill needs to be commented on. On Sunday, 15 October, the correct Working Document suddenly made an appearance on PMG’s website – two days after submissions were due. Strangely, the correct version was updated only on the Call for Submissions page, not where one would Track the Bill. This complicates finding the correct document intended for submissions, for glaringly obvious reasons.
Queue maniacal laughter.
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group, as their name implies, is tasked with communicating to South African citizens on the goings-on within our Parliament. PMG does this because communications to the public from Parliament tend to be lacking. The delayed upload of the correct draft Bill demonstrates both parties are at fault for neglecting our democratic right to free and fair participation in crafting policy that directly impacts us as citizens.
CHILDREN OF THE DAGGA
A large portion of the Cannabis citizenry of South Africa stand to be horrifically impacted by the points relating to Children and Cannabis. The draft Bill makes no provision for families where children are directly integrated into the cultivation, harvest, curing, and storage of Cannabis.
Simply put, children cannot be isolated from Cannabis, nor can we expect parents, guardians, and/or caregivers of children to hide their use of their favourite Plant, particularly when there are no similar limitations imposed for the storage and use of tobacco (Tobacco Products Control Act 1993) or alcohol (Liquor Act 2003) in spaces where children are present. Both these Acts do, however, correctly limit child consumption. This has been adopted somewhat into the draft Bill where Traditional, Cultural, and Religious Uses are concerned, albeit with a punitive contradiction in the recommended penalties for doing so.
The draft Bill proclaims to put the best interest of the child first, but does not recognise that fines of ZAR2 000 for ridiculous infractions by their parents, guardians, and/or caregivers can seriously impact access to basic necessities like food for that child.
Imprisoning parents, guardians, and/or caregivers for 12 months where fines cannot be paid only serve to make victims of the children whose care they are charged with.
We know that Cannabis participants in rural, peri-urban, and urban settings need not isolate their children from their relationships with the Plant. Generations have interacted with Cannabis in various ways for numerous purposes without the perceived harms promulgated in the draft Bill. Many carry their skills over to their progeny and wards; the same understand the utility the Plant can offer them when used responsibly.
Various amendments have been affected to the National Road Traffic Act 1996 to regulate (and denigrate) Cannabis. Rather than write wholly new sections to this law, the Traffic Act is retrofitting THC and Cannabis in all willy-nilly. No evidence is provided for these amendments. Disturbingly, the Traffic Act also has penalties in place for intoxication by both alcohol and Cannabis, yet testing can legally only be done for a single substance at a time.
While it makes sense to have road safety considered in how we craft Cannabis policy, it MUST be paired with robust evidence and suitable measures.
The Bill has taken many forms; bits have been added and redacted, and progress has been made. However, like Frankenstein’s Monster, the Cannabis Community of our diverse nation remains feared and stigmatised. Frankenstein, and not the creature he created, was the monster in that classic. As people who have our own unique relationships with the Plant, we too have been made into monsters by the real monster: PROHIBITION.
Only, we have had enough. We are NOT monsters to be locked in cages – physical or otherwise.
We WILL have our Cognitive Liberty!
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