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SA Cannabis Reform: Why NCMP is Heading Towards a Disaster

By Cannabiz Africa publisher Brett Hilton-Barber


Cannabis reform in South Africa is threatening to turn into a nightmare for all the people who should be benefitting from it.   The major problem is what one analyst has politely called “the knowledge deficit” that sits in government. 


Cannabis Master Plan is a roadmap to nowhere

SA is one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to cannabis. Yet the National Cannabis Master Plan Version 5 (NCMP) that has been tabled by the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform (DALRRD) has as many potholes as the average Jo’burg street. If it’s a roadmap to anywhere, it’ll surely take us down the route of unintended consequences with a detour or two to skirt the really expensive mistakes that are coming over the rise.

The NCMP is a well-meaning document that is actually meaningless. It is a cut-and-paste proposition that is bereft of imagination and clueless about the subject at hand.  This may sound harsh, but it’s the truth: the NCMP is a wish list that is an exercise in avoidance.

“Cannabis reform has the potential to bring out the worst in South Africa – or the best” says Marc Wegerif, the convener of thinktank Cannabis Organization University Pretoria (COUP). 

In an interview with Cannabiz Africa on 8 June 2021, he sketched out marijuana’s High Road/Low Road scenario. 

“Cannabis reform has the potential to widen inequality, inflame racism, create more dysfunction in the social fabric and continue criminalizing the same people apartheid did while benefitting the elite. Or it could become a nation-building, economically-inclusive activity that is aimed at uplifting rural marginalized communities while at the same time unleashing urban entrepreneurial flair”.


SA Govt choosing Low Road over High Road in cannabis reform

Right now, it looks like we’re lumbering along the Low Road Scenario, and will continue to do so until the government’s cannabis reformers decide to factor reality into their policy mix.  And the basic underlying reality is that, by the NCMP’s own estimation, SA already has a thriving illegal cannabis industry worth R28 billion, almost a million growers serving both the export and domestic market, and at least 3,5 million regular cannabis consumers. 


And yet, astoundingly, the government does not factor any of this into its proposed policy, which is essentially to:

  • Develop the medicinal cannabis export market
  • Establish a local hemp industry
  • Allow private “adult-use” consumption but not to allow commercialization in this space.


5 reasons why the Cannabis Master Plan misses the plot

Beneath these broad policy brush-strokes lies a canvas of absurdity, the main points of madness are highlighted below.

  1. No vision for a local market – either for medicinal or adult-use cannabis;
  2. No plan to legalize SA’s 900 000 or so full-time illegal cannabis farmers;
  3. No concrete steps to protect SA landraces or indigenous knowledge “IP” from bio-piracy;
  4. Unrealistic expectations over hemp;
  5. Possible international restrictions on how much cannabis SA will eventually be able to export;


In order to get back onto the High Road, SA’s cannabis policy-makers will have to address these 5 fundamental flaws in the NCMP – or else risk losing out on the potential cannabis boom altogether. 


SA cannabis reform turning out to be an exercise in ‘white monopoly capital’

SA’s cannabis reform was initially under the Department of Health. DoH will continue to be in charge of the medicinal cannabis framework but has passed the NCMP into DALRRD’s hands. But DALRDD says these hands are tied until the Justice Department changes the wording of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act to clarify definitions around hemp, medicinal cannabis and adult-use weed. But this could be years away. Insiders say the Justice Department is prohibitionist by nature, feels marginalized in the debate and is not vested in the economic advantages that could be gained by legalization.

The Marijuana Board of South Africa (MBSA) has a powerful argument in its analysis that cannabis reform in SA has been appropriated by White Monopoly Capitalism. It points to the fact that fewer than 30 cannabis cultivation licenses have been issued, all of them to big business with multinational ties, while the fate of over 900 000 illegal cannabis farmers is being ignored.

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