Leela Baer, FGFA
Fields of Green for All (FGFA) was one of the participants in the Phakisa Action Lab workshop where over 100 cannabis stakeholders interacted with the Presidency between 19 and 23 June 2023. The organization says it’s cautiously optimistic in the wake of the engagement, and although there are still problematic areas, cannabis legalization in South Africa has entered a significant new phase.
The past week has proven to be one of the most significant in our journey to re-legalise Dagga. We are cautiously optimistic that the outcomes reached and goals set this past week will lead to a bountiful harvest from our years of toil in our Fields of Green for ALL.
We would nevertheless like to caution you ALL that the core points highlighted in the press release will take hard work, time, and considerable financing to realise.
The five years since the 2018 Constitutional Court Ruling have taught us that our best intentions may have unintended consequences, and there will always be those who will stand in the way of progress. We have entered a new phase in this fight and it is imperative that ALL participants are honest, transparent, and accountable for what happens next.
Cannabis Phakisa – What and Who
The Cannabis Sector stands identified as one of 14 priority sectors in the Country Investment Strategy thanks to how it can help create jobs, support livelihoods, and allow human rights to be recognised. Ultimately, Cannabis offers a unique opportunity to engage with and find solutions for the many problems our young democracy continues to face.
The Cannabis Phakisa Action Lab was convened by the Presidency and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development (DALRRD). Running over 19-23 June 2023, it brought together over 100 participants across civil society, local and national government, and business.
According to the press statement released at 7:30 pm 23 June 2023 from the Presidency, the “Phakisa has secured important resolutions and actions” through the week-long collaboration between the various attending stakeholders.
Fields of Green for ALL was also present – represented by our Clarke of the Plant, Myrtle – acting to help realise the needs and rights of civil society in unleashing the Plant.
Although included in the formal statements, the term “hemp” has fallen away, so we will refer to the Cannabis Phakisa Action Lab or Cannabis Phakisa. The removal of “hemp” reflects the scrapping of THC thresholds, meaning that the purpose for which Cannabis is cultivated is no longer beholden to the arbitrary parameters of THC levels in plants. The scrapping of THC thresholds is significant- it directly recognises the multiple uses of Cannabis, helping to more proactively recognise the many traditional, cultural, religious, industrial, and, yes, adult-uses of the Plant.
Collective agreements on regulatory reforms have been reached to help unlock the Plant’s potential across uses and applications. Within this, provision has been made for “African traditional medicines; pharmaceutical and complementary medicines; human and animal ingestion; and multiple industrial applications.”
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has been rightfully relegated to only cultivation for medicinal purposes. Clarification on how this extends to traditional and complementary medicinal uses outside of pharmaceutical parameters is, of course, still required.
Regulatory reforms are earmarked for the rescheduling of Cannabis in the Medicines Act (1965) to enable non-medicinal Cannabis cultivation. Through this, traditional medicines using Cannabis are set to be recognised, alongside other non-medicinal uses (cultural, religious, and adult-use).
Other commercial cultivation purposes will fall to the relevant departments.
Cannabis is further set to be removed from the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act (1992), effectively legalising non-medicinal Dagga under the conditions of the Plant Improvement Act, overseen by DALRRD. It is not yet certain how this will directly impact our legacy market, who have typically been left behind in the regulatory and legislative processes until recently.
Adult-Use: Access and Supply
The term “recreational” has been replaced by the Department of Justice and Correctional Services with the more inclusive and indeed salient term “Adult-use” (or “adult use”). This allows for all uses to be acknowledged, helping to further inclusive and sustainable development within this space.
Through the Phakisa, our legislators have acknowledged that “supply of adult-use cannabis to consumers is not yet legal” and have agreed to undertake (drum-roll, please) a “science-based and human rights approach” in enabling this part of the sector. Of course, how this is interpreted by our legislators remains crucial.
With focus falling to how to “determine an optimal adult-use market, based on a set of foundational policy principles, taking into full consideration the imperative to respect rights and lower societal and industry harms,” Government appears ready to lay the groundwork to develop a licit Cannabis economy from the existing “illicit” trade that holds a centuries-long history in our nation.
Arrests – The Big Question
Another hopeful victory is the resolution to “reinforce previous instructions to all South African Police Services (SAPS) members to respect the privacy rights of cannabis cultivators and users, and to ensure the least intrusive measures are used when securing an accused’s court attendance”.
Measures to ensure the constitutional rights of “cultivators, users and dealers” are respected are mentioned as well.
It is necessary to pause and focus here. Social media is already running rampant with assertions that arrests will cease because of this. However, until we have a clear directive handed to the SAPS, which is properly understood by all officers, we remain at risk of unlawful arrest. We caution you all to act as you always have – with good sense and understanding that your constitutional rights may not be recognised by the police.
Investment focuses have also been highlighted through the Phakisa process, and a detailed programme of action has been laid out. Existing projects under the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) will receive greater support to enable local production economies.
The programme of action is further seeking to secure “an optimal financing framework which enables private sector investment with some public sector financing support”. Small & Medium Enterprise entrants (SMEs) and black farmers are set to receive focus here, alongside assistance to “de-risk private sector investment”.
The Road Ahead
While we are reasonably optimistic about these many new developments toward enabling an inclusive, sustainable, and equitable Cannabis Sector, we have years of hard work ahead of us. The Cannabis Phakisa is but one of many steps to take in this long and challenging journey. However, we know that we walk with you, our Cannabis Community and Activists.
We are always cultivating our Fields of Green for ALL and we are as excited as you to know that our voices have indeed been heard and that our leadership have acknowledged many of the faults in unleashing the Plant thus far.
Jules, we wish you were here to see it!