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‘Proposed Bill favours the rich, screws the poor’

The proposed Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill will favour the rich and encourage corruption. That’s the submission to Parliament by the South African Drug Policy Initiative (SADPI) on the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill.  

SAPDI says the proposed law does not reflect the spirit of the 2018 Constitutional Court ruling which declared unconstitutional the existing legislation criminalising the use, possession, and cultivation of cannabis for private use.

New bill amounts to ‘prohibition for the poor’

While affluent communities will benefit enormously from the Bill as it stands, its requirements effectively exclude the millions of South Africans who lack the space to grow and consume cannabis in such strict conditions of privacy. What’s more, it discriminates against the indigent by imposing a de facto prohibition on their use and cultivation of cannabis; and leaves vulnerable communities at risk of excessive penalties and continued human rights abuses by the criminal justice system.

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Nothing for you to smile about the new law

Equally as important, it has little prospect of reducing the scope for organised crime and corruption. Therefore, it is obvious that a sensible, non-discriminatory approach, rather than one focused on criminalisation and punishment, is needed to control the use and trade in cannabis products.

‘Base cannabis laws on alcohol guidelines’

To this end the regulatory framework for the use, production and trade in cannabis should be based on those laws and bylaws that control the far more harmful drug, alcohol. 

Although alcohol-related regulations are by no means perfect, they provide examples of laws that seek a balance between the controlled trade of a recreational drug and measures to mitigate the potential harms of that drug. For example, in South Africa it is legal for adults to produce alcohol products such as wine and beer for private use.

While commercial production requires licensing and adherence to established production and marketing standards. These licenses are not restricted to large commercial operations or “Big Alcohol” – witness the extensive production of wine on independent wine farms and the growing numbers of craft beer makers, artisanal gin producers and similar enterprises.

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Laws governing alcohol use can be adapted to cannabis.

The laws around cannabis should build and improve on those that are already in place to regulate the liquor industry. This includes limited private production, as well as requirements and standards governing commercial production, marketing, packaging, sale, and so on. The COVID-related ban on alcohol and tobacco products has shown South Africans the inevitable harmful consequences that even a temporary prohibition of recreational drugs can inflict on a country.

‘Draft law will encourage crime’

Chief amongst those consequences are violations of human rights, adverse impacts on the economy and the enabling of organised crime structures that, in the words of SARSCommissioner Edward Kieswetter: “Have marketed themselves to previously honest smokers and drinkers, that are now embedded in the supply chain; and it will take us years to reverse the impact.”

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Parliament now has the opportunity to produce a cannabis bill that is not only sensible, fair and non-discriminatory; but one that will remove the cannabis trade from the untaxed, informal sector and allow it to make a significant contribution to the upliftment of rural communities, the South African economy and the national fiscus.

So, now is the time for concerned South Africans to make submissions to Parliament and insist on a revision of the existing Cannabis For Private Purposes bill. This must be done to reflect, not only the spirit of the Constitutional Court’s Ruling, but an appreciation that the continued criminalisation of the cannabis trade will cause far more harm to individuals, communities, good governance and the economy than the legal regulation thereof.

Issued by the South African Drug Policy Initiative.

info@sabdi.org

The South African Drug Policy Initiative (SADPI) is a Voluntary Association that aims to reform the laws governing those psychoactive substances whose production, sale, possession, and consumption are currently prohibited by criminal law. It advocates legal regulation of the kind used for other potentially harmful, yet legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco. The SADPI believes that the criminalisation of drugs, and of the people who use drugs, causes greater harm to individuals and society than the drugs themselves and sustains the proliferation of organised criminal groups.

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