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Race row over licenses erupts in SA

South Africa’s black farmers have accused the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) of racism and corruption in the granting of cannabis cultivation licenses. This has been strongly disputed by SAHPRA, which says that licenses are issued on technical specifications and that race has nothing to do with it. 

An estimated 150 supporters of the South African Black Farmers Association (BFASA) marched on SAPHRA’s offices in Pretoria on 27 October 2020, accusing it of favouring white farmers in the issuing of cannabis licenses. They handed over a memorandum calling for transparency at SAPHRA.

‘Today we are here to march against racism’

The march was led by BFASA president Dr Lennox Xolile Mtshagi, who told marchers: “Today we are here to march against racism. SAHPRA does not cater for black people and it is using a 1965 Act, which is an Apartheid Act, that excludes black people from entering the pharmaceutical field. We are fighting for our rights and the parliament should look at this issue” 

He said the BFASA demanded a regulating authority “which does not seve the needs of selfish colonialist and capitalist monopolies”. He urged the crowd to “fight for your right to uplift yourself and do not fall foul to another rushed corporate capture”

SAHPRA rejects racism claims, says it hears black voices

SAPHRA says it takes the BFASA’s demands seriously but it rejects accusations of corruption as the organization is run strictly in accordance with provisions of the Public Finance Management Act. It says BFASA is creating confusion and that it has had numerous meetings with the organization to try and resolve its concerns, but so far to no avail.

A statement released by SAPHRA CEO Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela says the organization “has taken a developmental approach and is currently reviewing a mechanism that will enable small farmers to enter this sector. Once finalised, this approach will be communicated to the relevant stakeholders” 

 

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Complications and Limitations

Under the current legislation, SAHPRA does not issue licences for the cultivation of cannabis for non-medicinal commercial purposes. SAHPRA’s role is limited only to medical cannabis. The process to obtain a licence from SAHPRA to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes is a rigorous one, which must comply with the legislative framework. There needs to be standardisation of the medicinal cannabis cultivars and assurance that crops can be grown under conditions of strict security and good quality. The cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes requires strict control as South Africa is a signatory to international treaties that prohibit the production and supply of narcotic and psychotropic drugs, including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. 

“SAHPRA recognises that there is an ongoing global dialogue around the use of cannabis for both medicinal and non-medicinal purposes. In South Africa, there is a national policy dialogue wherein SAHPRA and other institutions are involved. The oversight of current and possible future uses of cannabis involves many stakeholders, including SAHPRA, the Department of Health, Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development, Trade and Industry and Competition, the South African Police Service, and Parliament. SAHPRA is by no means the only entity that is involved with the regulation of cannabis,”

 

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‘Stop confusing the public’

SAHPRA is concerned about the inaccuracies of such narratives by the BFASA because they confuse the public in what is a complex legal and national policy matter. Accurate reporting is essential to allow the public to participate constructively and meaningfully in this debate, and we accordingly urge the public to verify the facts for themselves in order to ensure that they make informed decisions. 

SAHPRA is obliged to remain focused on its mandate, which is to ensure that potential healthcare products are safe and effective for human use prior to them being offered to potential consumers”

The African Cannabis Industry Association (ACIA) spokesperson, Raadia Khan said she hoped to facilitate negotiations between the parties to forge an amicable agreement.

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