Folks, this is potentially the game changer we have all been waiting for, South African cannabis legalization is set to enter a new era following a ground-breaking meeting between the Presidency, private sector and community organizations. Key agreements include scrapping THC limits for industrial cannabis, recognizing the rights of traditional growers, reigning in SAPS and creating a mechanism to facilitate full adult-use consumption. Sounds like we are getting somewhere at last.
“Phakisa” Means “Quick” and the project name was designed to show the urgency of President Ramaphosa’s cannabis reform intentions. This stands in stark contrast to the Justice Department’s “Stalingrad” tactics whereby state lawyers have missed deadline after deadline in drawing up meaningful cannabis legislation.
Essentially, the National Cannabis Master Plan is back on track after a breakthrough series of meetings between the Presidency and cannabis stakeholders. Five days of intense meetings with over 100 stakeholders in the industry have laid the foundation for a more coherent approach to cannabis legalization, and yielded the following in-principle agreements to “unlock the potential of cannabis in African traditional medicine; pharmaceutical and complementary medicines; human and animal ingestion; and multiple industrial applications”.
The urgent removal of cannabis from the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act and a review of the Medicines Act which will essentially legalize the cultivation of non-medicinal cannabis under the Plant Protection Act, which is under the Department of Agriculture’s (DALRRD) watch.
Scaling up support for the projects put in place by the CSIR and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) to “support and enable private sector investment in product aggregation, processing, and manufacturing technology for end-user demand”.
Setting up public and private financial support structures for “Black farmers and SME entrants in the emerging market”, and where appropriate Government will assist “to de-risk private sector investment”.
Develop practical ways of investment promotion, export support and ensuring standards were complied with
Working with all provinces to align cannabis strategy across the various levels of Government.
For the first time, the South African Government has taken the issue of adult-use, or “recreational” cannabis head-on and has given the clearest indication to date that full legalization is just a matter of time: “A science-based and human rights approach to how and when to do this, especially concerning the need to include Indigenous farmers, will be the subject of a further exploratory process involving all stakeholders. This will determine an optimal regulated 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 occurring in the existing illicit cannabis market. This process will ultimately inform government’s approach to encouraging the successful migration of existing participants from the illicit to the licit cannabis economy.”
Phakisa also envisages the reigning in of SAPS on cannabis arrests by resolving 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. Further measures will be taken to ensure that SAPS treats cultivators, users and dealers of cannabis with respect for their constitutional rights.”
In their response to Phakisa, Fields of Green for All (FGFA), advised cannabis users to remain wary of SAPS: “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.”
Nedlac, the organization which rejected the last version of the National Cannabis Master Plan presented to it by DALRDD, expressed its satisfaction with the outcomes. Community representative Nhlanhla Ndlovu said “The Phakisa has started the process of liberating the cannabis plant. This freeing of the plant will go a long way in improving the relationship of the state with communities. In particular, the traditional communities, the Rastafari communities, the responsible adult users, the traditional healers and their patients.”
Business representative, Ayanda Bam, who was also involved in the Nedlac process from a Business Unity South Africa perspective, sang Phakisa’s praises but said accountability was essential: “The Phakisa created a platform for the collaboration and co-ordination that has long been missing from the hemp and cannabis sector development and is evidence that when commitments are backed by action, it is possible to progress. What we need now is accountability to ensure that that progress translates to tangible outcomes. Business is committed to being a trusted partner and contributor to prosperity, innovation, and resilient livelihoods.”
CDCSA chair Gareth Prince agreed that the success of Phakisa going forward would be accountability on the part of Government: “The Phakisa showed what we can accomplish if we work together in a spirit of recognition and reconciliation. We remain committed to restoring the dignity and economic culture of our community and the rest of society in a renewable and reliable manner. We trust that the government will work with us more progressively and we will hold them to the resolutions of the Phakisa.”
Phakisa’s success is in no short part due to the behind-the-scenes work that Presidential cannabis advisor, Garth Strachan, has been doing. He’s ensured that the Presidency has found the energy to drive cannabis legalization and has built the trust of the private sector and community organizations in the process.
The postcard version of Phakisa: The Presidency has taken the “whip hand” away from the Justice Department and has given the clearest signal yet that full adult-use legalization is but a matter of time, and this, as we all know, is the key to unlocking South Africa’s potentially super-lucrative cannabis economy. It's also putting in place finance and support structures for traditional growers and new small-scale entrants into the market