Garth Strachan, the cannabis advisor in the Presidency, has called on civil society to “maximize its pressure on Government” to speed up cannabis reform but has warned stakeholders that getting nine departments into line is going to take time.
“This is not a job for the faint-hearted” says the president’s cannabis advisor, Garth Strachen. Speaking candidly during the launch of the IEJ Cannabis Report on 24 February 2023 he said that: “Government itself is a barrier” to getting the cannabis industry off the ground, with departments engaged in “turf wars” rather than collaborating with each other.
He said there were nine Government departments affected by cannabis legalization and joked that he’d come to understand that CBD was not just a cannabis compound but could also describe the “Chronic Bureaucratic Dysfunctionality” that he was experiencing on a day to day basis. Strachan was appointed in May last year, with one of his main tasks being to align Government departments to come up with a single vision for the cannabis industry, but the fact that he has no muscle to enforce this has hampered his job.
“There are capacity problems” he said, which were complicated by the Justice department’s default position on UN conventions. “There are nine Government departments which means it’s complicated. There are multiple pathways we need to traverse to get to evidence-based regulation. The master plan methodology is useful but it’s being used to mechanically. The approach should be to define key industrial strategy steps that need to be deployed and to implement them.”
He said South Africa had a bad record of getting “sunrise industries” up and running, pointing to the complications of the renewable energy sector and warning that cannabis could fall into the trap of “regulatory creep” whereby Government departments piled on the bureaucracy.
“We are in danger of being stuck in a resource trap where value addition is not being captured” he said.
Strachan said it was important for cannabis stakeholders to keep the pressure on Government to put in place urgent reform measures. He said that while it might be easy to “throw stones at the Government”, cannabis stakeholders should rather look at ways of supporting officialdom, which was hampered by a lack of knowledge in the sector.
From his perspective the urgent steps required were tp address the problem of legacy growers being excluded from the system and “urgent reform” on current CBD and THC restrictions in legal cannabis products, and that a “standards” framework needed to be put in place.
“The question of exclusion of taditional farmers is a major problem and we are tying to persuade SAHPRA and DALRRD to look at “inclusive models for licensing”, adding that the concept of a “tiered” licensing system was attractive.
“I don’t have a magic wand but I am looking at this as a matter of urgency” he said.
He said South Africa clearly had an international competitive advantage in being able to grow cannabis outdoors in the face of rising energy costs, but that standards needed to be put in place to develop the indigenous market.
Strachan said that to date 83 cannabis cultivation licenses and four manufacturing licenses had been issued by SAHPRA and that DALLRD had issued 370 hemp permits. He said this reflected an “obvious mismatch” given the size of South Africa’s cannabis industry.
“When industiral policy is led by the state which has an industrial toolbox that is not bought to bear, then there is failure” he said, pointing out that DALRRD had not yet registered South Africa’s two favoured hemp varietals, SA Hemp 1 and 2, and that seed sourcing was a major problem for the hemp sector.
He said Customs was confiscating hemp seeds because of policy non-alignment.
He was also critical of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, saying that it was important that it did not “close the doors to commercialization”.
When asked during the presentation by Silverleaf Investments CEO Darryl Weisz as to how long it would take to get an overall cannabis regulatory framework in place, Strachan’s reply was “this is a time to be cautious with your bets”.
“I am working night and day to develop an appropriate regulatory framework, but whether it’s going to happen or how it’s going to be implemented is hard to say”.