New Report Highlights Urgency in “Leveraging Domestic Cannabis Demand’ and Lays Bare Government’s Utter Policy Ineptitude
There is a need for a regulated adult-use cannabis market in South Africa to leverage domestic demand into commercial opportunities and to avoid the social harms caused by prohibition. That’s according to the IEJ’s Cannabis Report, which is the latest stakeholder voice to call for a clear Government policy path in the face of an increasingly gloomy outlook for the sector in 2023.
1 March 2023 at 08:00:00
Legalization of adult-use cannabis consumption is is one of the of the key findings in the Institute for Economic Justice’s (IEJ) Cannabis Report, launched virtually on 24 February 2023. The report, titled "Inclusive Development in the in the South African Cannabis Industry: Assessing the Challenges" said that unless “domestic demand is leveraged”, South Africa will “not be capable of creating an inclusive sustainable cannabis industry and that legacy growers will be locked out of the system.”
The pro-labour report, authored by Katrina Lehmann-Grube of the IEJ and Andrew Bowman of the University of Edinburgh, makes a clear argument for the the legalization of adult-use cannabis in South Africa. During the launch presentation, Lehmann-Grube pointed out that the current incarnation of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill (CPPB) was harmful in that it was anti-poor in that it discriminated against low-income households.
The Bill is currently in the depths of the Parliamentary process and although it’s believed to have been redrafted to include certain rights for traditional growers, there has been no communication from state lawmakers on the current status of the Bill for at least five months.
Lehmann-Grube said: “the current licensing system creates major barriers of entry for small producers” and that there was a “need to explore ‘tiered’ licensing systems focusing on lowering barriers and channeling support for industrialization”.
She said “‘Tiered’ licensing structure would allow marginalized groups to enter the formal sector”.
The IEJ argues that a new institution for the co-ordination of a “sectoral innovation system” is required, essentially an effective state cannabis agency. Among its tasks would be to generate demand for hemp products and not just focus, as DALRRD is doing, on concentrating on the supply side.
The report says international experience shows that proximity to processing capacity is important in developing a hemp industry and that appropriate incentives need to be put in place.
The report highlights five major policy challenges:
1.Establishing a competitive industry in the global market: SA medical cannabis exporters face market access challenges and there was a complex legal patchwork in which SAHPRA compliance did not meet EU GMP expectations and there were major power imbalances with international buyers. It was important for SA to have a clear export policy on cannabis, capitalizing on its strengths as a low-cost outdoor producer.Lehmann-Grube said: “There’s a need to provide market access support for producers, international recognition, ease the licensing procedure and address bottlenecks such as laboratory access”.
The report says genetics are likely to be central to “future value capture”, and that “horizontal linkages”, such as the supply of equipment and materials to cannabis growers, need to be developed. South Africa’s landraces are a huge asset but are at risk and more research is required on ‘bio-prosperity” and cross-pollination that could affect niche production areas.
2.Avoiding the commodity trap: avoiding been cornered in the international market as a soley low-cost cannabis producer, or in other words, Bowman said there was “a concern about price competition” and South Africa avoiding the dynamics of a ‘race to the bottom’’.He said there was a “need to support innovation and upgrading into higher value products”. He said :”this is not just a downstreaming process”.
3.Social and environmental upgrading: Bowman said that in the longer term the cannabis industry needed to support ecological upgrading, ie) cannabis to be used as a development tool to uplift communities and provide a greening factor (for instance Gauteng Government’s recent tender for hemp to be grown on abandoned mine dumps as a heavy metal extractor that could then be turned into hempcrete). Multi-stakeholder governance that included labour and communities would help develop an ethically-based cannabis industry.
4.Creating an inclusive industry: the importance of cannabis policy including legacy growers and township entrepreneurs. The report argues that there is a need for targetted support for small enterprises in terms of infrastructure, finance and access to markets.
5.Leveraging domestic demand: basically full adult-use legalization in a regulated framework. In short, this is the elephant in the room. Until such time as Government recognizes the reality of the current illegal consumer market and takes steps to regulate and support it, the South African cannabis industry will remain in the doldrums. The report points out that the continued criminalization of cannabis is costing the country a lot in terms of lost economic opportunities and the ripping of social fabric.
About the authors
Andrew Bowman is a lecturer in International Development at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre of African Studies in the School of Social & Political Science. Prior to this he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Society, Work and Politics Institute, and at the University of Manchester’s Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change. He researches the political economy of development, with a focus on agri-food, and the extractive industries. His recent work has focused on the challenges for small enterprise in agro-processing value chains.
Katrina Lehmann-Grube is an Associate Researcher on climate change and inequality at the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at WITS and a PhD student at Environmental Humanities South at UCT. She previously worked as a Climate Justice researcher at the Institute for Economic Justice. She holds a BSc in Applied Biology, Ecology and Evolution from the University of Cape Town, and an MSc in Environment, Politics and Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London).
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