One step forwards, one step backwards! That’s how South Africa is marching its hemp sector. While lifting the hemp THC% restriction to 2% is a potential game-changer, the restriction of approved cultivars threatens to undermine any advances.
South Africa intends to lift the THC percentage limit in hemp to 2%. Although this has not been formally announced, the intention has been stated in the latest version of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill.
The Bill was up for public comment until 28 April 2023 and the comments will be processed by the Parliamentary Justice and Correctional Services Portfolio Committee before being sent back to the National Assembly later this year.
There’s been no official word on the issue from the Department of Agriculture (DALRD), which oversees the issuing of hemp permits, but presumably these will be gazetted in the next few months ahead of the October planting season (Editors note: we're trusting that the 2,0% isn't a typo on 0,2%!).
Although the increase of the THC limit from 0,2% to 2% is a major step forward, and will make South African hemp sector more attractive to investors, there are still major problems in the way the State intends restricting the sourcing of hemp seeds.
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Writing in Business Day, Desmond Greaver and Siseko Maposa of the Inkwasi Farming Group, said that while the increase in THC restrictions for hemp were very positive, “regrettably, for every progressive element of the bill there are equally outstanding shortcomings that limit its usefulness”.
“With regard to commercial hemp policy proposals, the restriction of hemp activities to “approved cultivar” remains a lethal impediment to a viable, scalable commercial hemp sector in SA. In effect, by choosing to restrict activities to “approved cultivars” the department is creating for itself a chokepoint whereby it could summarily dismiss all development restricting activity to select industrial fibre and seed strains. This is an unacceptable level of risk for commercial investments in hemp flower cultivation and potential agro processing.
It is also worth noting that to date there is no record of approved cultivars beyond the much-touted RSA1 and RSA2 fibre platforms. As it stands, the permit process is well enough defined to allow for the sourcing and importing of select compliant strains. It is essential that this functionality be maintained to allow SA hemp flower cultivators to select, cultivate and market the most competitive strains internationally.”
If these impediments are cleared and hemp farmers can choose their own varietals according to the purpose of their crop, South Africa will become one of the most viable hemp industries in the world.
Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mexico, Poland, Colombia and several states in the US have set THC% limits at 1%, while most European hemp producing nations have their THC restrictions at 0,2 or 0,3%.
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