Operation Vulindela – a joint initiative between the Presidency and the Treasury to build South Africa's infrastructure capacity - has reaffirmed that creating the right regulatory environment for the cannabis industry is a 2023 priority.
In a statement issued on 15 December 2022, the Presidency said that cannabis is one of four major reforms to be added onto the priority list in the new year according to Operation Vulindela’s third quarter report. They are:
Creating an appropriate legislative framework for hemp and cannabis;
Enabling the devolution of passenger rail functions to local government;
Titling reform for low-cost housing; and
Developing a fit-for-purpose procurement regime for state-owned entities.
The report details the progress over the past two years in accelerating economic structural reforms announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in October 2020.
The operation’s key goals include:
Scaling up supply of electricity and water;
Reducing the cost of data and improving the quality of digital communications; and
A new visa regime to attract skills and also grow tourism.
The identification of cannabis as a priority for 2023 is welcome, but first the Government has to pull itself out of the deep legaslative hole it has fallen into. It is going to have to rewrite three key pieces of legislation that it wrote this year, mainly because it ignored public input and expert advice.
As one observer, who wished to remain anonymous remarked: “From a legislative point of view, 2022 has been an absolute waste of time. MP’s have rushed through fundamentally flawed laws that are likely to be challenged in court as soon as they see the light of day.
“They are going to have to come up with an over-arching cannabis law next year that is driven by Government’s National Cannabis Master Plan and not by Constitutional Court rulings. The whole process is going to start from scratch again. It’s not a good feeling that all these politicians, from all parties, are being paid to pass sensible laws and they can’t even do that properly. It’s not just a waste of time but of money as well” he said.
“It’s all very well that the Presidency has identified sorting out the cannabis regulatory environment as a priority for next year, but that’s what he promised in February this year. Instead the regulatory environment has gone backwards in many respects as there’s no legislative alignment”.
It won’t be such a happy new year for the cannabis industry because:
An amended Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act will come into force which still includes cannabis as an “undesirable, dependence-producing substance” and heavily penalizes traditional growers and is still at odds with the Constitution because it continues to criminalize minors guilty of cannabis transgressions;
The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill will become law, despite the fact that at last sighting it failed to take into account the needs of legacy growers, traditional healers and Section 21 medical cannabis schemes. Although it makes provision for the future trade in cannabis products it does not allow any commercial trade as yet and there is a big question that hasn’t been answered in the legislation: if it's legal to grow your own plants at home, where are you supposed to get the seeds?
The hemp industry goes into its first scaled up season with the 300 or so new permit holders hoping that their crops won’t spike above 0,2% THC levels (which every industry stakeholder warns is likely because of southern Africa’s climate). A 1% THC limit in hemp is far more realistic, but at this stage hemp farmers may be prosecuted under the Drug Trafficking Act if they exceed the 0,2% limit, and there’s no market for their hemp if this happens.