President Cyril Ramaphosa promised “sweet news” for cannabis stakeholders in his State of the Nation address in February 2022. However, the industry is going into the New Year very sour-faced as the President failed to follow up on his priority pledge to overhaul the laws restricting the development of a cannabis economy.
The President was given the solution on a plate, but either chose to ignore it or allowed himself to be undermined by his Justice Minister. During the early part of last year a group of top cannabis legal minds drew up a cohesive framework for the cannabis industry under the auspices of the Private Sector Working Group. And they did it for free!
The plan, informally referred to as the Webber Wentzel document, was passed onto the Presidency at least six months ago. It envisaged over-arching legislation that governed the cannabis and hemp sectors with a regulated adult use domestic market that incorporated legacy growers.
Instead, the initiative appears to have been side-lined by the Justice Department, which also ignored all public input, and the views of the provincial premiers and the President’s cannabis advisor in drafting cannabis-related legislation.
Government’s dismal failure to put in place a cohesive regulatory environment for cannabis can be laid squarely with the Justice Department. Instead of drafting laws that reflected Government policy, the Department, under the guidance of Minister Ronald Lamola, went on to produce a raft of piece-meal laws, all of which are constitutionally flawed and will have to be sent back to Parliament.
Another year of Government being its own worst enemy. Instead of the thousands of jobs the President said would be created, the industry remains largely illegal and in the control of criminal syndicates. And given the slow nature of Parliament and the courts it is highly unlikely that there will be any form of broader, legal commercial trade in cannabis for at least another 12 months.
The following points underscore how bad things are going into the new year:
Cannabis continues to be criminalized by the new Drug Trafficking Act and firmly in the control of the Justice cluster;
DALRRD has no plan as to how to incorporate legacy growers into the cannabis mainstream;
THC percentage limits for hemp have been set too low to be sustainable and there’s not yet a reliable source for seed;
There is no easy provision for SAHPRA licence holders to supply cannabis to Section 21 Medical Cannabis Scheme patients, some of whom are being dosed with Canadian flower;
The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill has disappeared into the recesses of Parliament and remains riddled with contradictions,
The State continues to outlaw the private cannabis club model, and tried to stop the Haze Cub Case from going on appeal.
The year ahead will see the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 2022 sent back to Parliament to revise. Even though it was rushed into law just days ahead of the Constitutional Court deadline to do so, it is still flawed in that it discriminates against minors convicted of cannabis offences.
Concourt has given Parliament another two year deadline to align the Act with the Constitution after upholding a Gauteng High Court ruling that minors guilty of drug offences should be processed by social welfare and not the criminal justice system.
Indications from the Presidency are that speeding up regulatory reform is a priority, but in order to do this, Cyril Ramaphosa, has to bring the Justice department urgently into line and repair the damage it did in 2022.
His cannabis advisor Garth Strachan, does not have the muscle required to drive the inter-ministerial cannabis committee. Theoretically, the committee consists of representatives from Justice, Trade and Industry, Health, Agriculture and Finance, but it’s not clear whether it actually has met at all as no minutes or progress reports have been released.
Prohibition Partners says this policy paralysis is costing South Africa a lot of wasted opportunities.
As it stands, the President might as well as use his last year’s State of the Nation Address this year, as all the priorities remain the same and there are few successes to sing of. Or he could wave around the Webber Wentzel document!