The focus of President Ramaphosa's SONA was on the energy crisis facing South Africa, but he made some important commitments to the cannabis sector. Chief amongst these was the recognition that legacy growers have to be included in cannabis reform and that the SAPS would be pulled into line.
President Cyril Ramaphosa says urgent steps are being taken to get cannabis reform back on track, and that departmental budgets are being repriotized to bring this into effect. He said this would "unlock enormous energy" in rural areas, particularly the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Mpumulanga.
He also gave the strongest indication yet that the Justice Department is being pulled into line, saying that the SAPS would be aligned with regulatory reforms.
Delivering his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Cape Town on 9 February 2023, the President said that ""last year we committed to unlocking investment in the hemp and cannabis sector" and that now "urgent work is being finalised by government to create an enabling regulatory framework for a whole plant, all legitimate purposes approach for complimentary medicines, food, cosmetics, and industrial products, aligned to international conventions and best practices.
"We are moving to create the enabling conditions for the sector to grow. The Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development and the Department of Health will address existing conditions for the cultivation of hemp and cannabis to allow outdoor cultivation and collection of harvests from traditional farmers.
"This will unlock enormous economic energy in the rural areas of the country, especially in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga."
He said "this includes the reprioritisation of departmental budgets for sector development and support for traditional, black farmers, and the alignment of South African Police Services enforcement with regulatory reforms. A growing economy must also be an increasingly inclusive economy."
Ramaphosa joked that SouthAfricans are no strangers to harvesting cannabis claiming that people have "been growing this stuff for years" and that "it sent many children to school."
Newsroom Afrika reports that the idea of the legalisation of marijuana tickles South Africans @abiel_ivy commented: "Ramaphosa loves weed hle!! This year and last year he’s talking about ‘that plant’" @SmugThierry said: "Cyril just endorsed selling weed. Nah this guy is desperate for votes"
The President's recommitment to cannabis reform comes in the wake of widespread criticism of Government's inability to put its own policies into practice. The private sector in particular has been critical of Government's lack of urgency in getting a commercial regulatory environment in place and community organizations have raised the issue that there is no planned legislation to accomodatre the 900 000 or so legacy growers.
Speaking to Eyewitness News ahead of SONA, Cheeba Cannabis Academy co-founder and director Linda Siboto said "there's no doubt in my mind that the president actually wants this thing to happen, but on the ground, we're not actually seeing that,"
He said South African cannabis businesses were still navigating high start-up costs, and contradictory regulations, while domestic producers continue to compete with rich foreign firms in South Africa's market.
"What I would say to him is come to us as experts, who are working in this industry, because also the people who have been put in charge, whether it's health or whether it's agriculture or the judiciary, they don't seem to understand, firstly what is cannabis and what is hemp, and what are the industrial commercial opportunities that lie within this country?"
Sibota said the the slow pace of the process had led to a lack of faith in local growers to produce a quality product, which in turn had led to outsourcing, taking away potential economic rewards from local hands.
IOL online criticized SONA for putting cannabis reform ahead of food security.
"Other than a brief, 'Load shedding means that households and supermarkets are unable to keep food fresh, water supply is often disrupted, traffic lights do not work, streets are not lit at night,' and a blessing to growth of the cannabis industry, President Cyril Ramaphosa paid lip service to the looming food security threat announced by sectors from dairy, poultry, crop and vegetable production as well as other vital cogs in the country’s literal food chain.
Meanwhile, outside Ramaphosa's west wing office in the Union Buildings, Pretoria, the Khoisan King continues occuping the gardens in a protest over indigenous rights, and is pulling in the tourists as one of South Africa's growing cannabis influencers!