Ricky Stone, Director uMzimvubu Farmers Support Network
Ricky Stone wears many hats in the cannabis sector, but primarily he is a lawyer with leading cannabis legal firm Cullinan and Associates, and a director of the uMzimvubu Farmers Support Network, which provides legal and other services to the cannabis growers of Mpondoland. Based in the Eastern Cape, he played a key role in halting the aerial spraying of poison on cannabis crops by police seven years ago. This is his submission on the Cannabis for Private Purpose Bill to the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on 23 May 2023.
Good morning Honourable Chairman and Honourable Members of the Portfolio Committee,
My name is Ricky Stone and I‘m addressing you in my capacity as a director of the uMzimvubu Farmers Support Network.
Unfortunately, due to the short notice in which these public hearings were called for oral representations, I was unable to ensure that my other team members in deep rural Mpondoland were able to join and make submissions today. I do, however, make submissions on their behalf, and indeed of the 100 000 farmers plus, rural indigenous,cannabis farmers of the Amapondo region, specifically those that reside in the Ntabankulu region and specifically under the traditional authority of Chief Litando Dinwayo.
Thank you though Chair, for this further opportunity to make oral submissions to the Portfolio Committee.
We do note that you request us to restrict our submissions to the hemp clauses and we do note that other presenters who have come before, have extended their submissions to other aspects of the Bill. We take no issue with that, Chair. Clearly these are very emotive and sensitive issues that are very important to all those members of the cannabis community, but we will, however, heed your request. But with that said, we do not waive our previous comments in respect of other clauses of the Bill, which we do maintain, remain unconstitutional.
Chair, I think it’s important to note that the uMzimvubu Farmers Support Network was specifically formed seven years ago in response to what Chief Diko of the Magingqa community raised in respect of the aerial eradication programme of the Amapondo’s cannabis.
The uMzimvubu Farmers Support Network was formed to support those farmers who suffered for 20 years under this Government’s programme of spraying glyphosphate on cannabis. We were successful with that legal intervention and strategy, and we now serve the purpose of trying to bridge the gap between the poorest of our poor in rural Mpondoland and this Government. Indeed, we engage with local government, provincial government, and as we are here today, engaging at a national level.
Unfortunately, Chair, it does seem like our previous submissions on hemp were not taken into account, with respect, Chair, if our submissions had been taken into account the references to hemp would not be in this Bill today. Because, quite clearly, the heading itself, speaks to say that it only intends to regulate the personal and private use of cannabis, not the commercialization of hemp.
So, whilst we do welcome the insertion of these hemp provisions, we do submit they are misaligned, and perhaps what is very important, and the Portfolio Committee will appreciate this, is that the intention of the legislature is critical when drafting legislation and interpreting it when its eventually enacted. It’s clear to me from a consideration of the minutes of the sitting of this Committee on 23 November 2022, that amongst the members themselves, there is much uncertainty as to why these hemp provisions have now been included in a cannabis for private purposes bill.
Members were specifically asking whether there is not redundancy and unnecessary reference to hemp, bearing in mind the amendments that have already been made to the Plant Improvement Act. Members also wanted to understand what the linkage between the Bill and the Plant Improvement Act were.
We would have then expected, Chair, that before this Bill went out to civil society for broader comment, that it would have been accompanied by a briefing note from the state law advisor to explain exactly what the intention of the legislature is to now include these hemp provisions in this cannabis for private purposes bill. That, with respect, would have been the appropriate way to deal with it.
So, if I can go on chair, and deal with the hemp provisions, the Amapondo, as Chief Diko rightly indicated, have used cannabis for hundreds of years, not only for traditional, cultural, recreational or medicinal purposes, they’ve used it for industrial purposes, for what hemp refers to.
Hemp is not a different plant. It is the same plant, Cannabis sativa, nsangu, dagga, and they used it for industrial purposes. Chief mentioned how they would use it to make their toy car, they would use it to reinforce the building of their rondawels. So it’s quite clear, and it’s fundamental that the Portfolio Committee notes this and accepts this, that the Amapondo indigenous cannabis farmers already use their indigenous landrace cannabis for industrial purposes.
Now chair, with respect, the addition of these new hemp provisions seem to be a cure-all, to try and cure the defects that already exist in the Plant Improvement Act. So, on that basis, we will submit that they are entirely inappropriate.
But one thing, Chair, noticing that there is this rush from members, and noting Cosatu’s comments too, that there is this rush to pass the Bill in this sitting…Chair, I would say, that in the most recent SONA from the Honourable President Ramaphosa, that we shouldn’t be rushing anything, that the deadline of the Constitutional Court has already passed.
To avoid this Bill being enacted and litigated against for many years to come because it is potentially still unconstitutional and hasn’t been drafted with a human rights lens and framework in place and is certainly not going to enable, as what President Ramaphosa recently stated….that he’s shortly going to be actioning, and I believe it’s already being actioned, a process what the president called, a ‘whole plant, all legitimate regulatory framework’.
So this Bill, Chair, is obviously not that framework. Indeed this Bill is going to do more harm than good, and it does remain unconstitutional in too many respects. With all due respects, Chair, this Bill does take us one step forwards towards a regulated cannabis industry, yet 1000 steps backwards at the same time.
To perhaps lean on the words of Chief Diko of the Magingqa Community Trust, ‘Siyaphambile’, which means ‘Forward Ever, Backward Never’. But with respect we are going backwards. We are not going forwards to the place where cannabis can be liberated for all legitimate purposes.
The hemp clause is inconsistent with the provisions in the Plant Improvement Act and those inconsistencies are not satisfactorily dealt with, and they need to be. But I think, what we need to appreciate is that ‘hemp’ is just a word, or a phrase, a type of use of cannabis, be that industrial or other use.
Hemp is cannabis, it is dagga, it is insangu, this is one plant, whether you are using it for rope, or for dope, or for whatever else, it’s one plant.
\It is unfortunate to see these references between cannabis and hemp because it’s reminiscent of apartheid, and here we are seeing a new form of apartheid, which is plant apartheid.
So, it’s important to realize that the Amapondo are using cannabis for industrial purposes. Their varieties of cannabis have more than 2% or 0,2% of THC, so Chair, is this Government genuinely saying that the Amapondo must destroy their ancient genetics. They have been the holders of that indigenous knowledge for hundreds of years. Must they now destroy those cultivars in favour of imported hemp varieties from Canada, from China, from France?
Chief Diko mentioned how much the hemp industry is going to be worth. In fact, this shirt I’m wearing is made out of cannabis, but unfortunately this cannabis had to be imported from France to South Africa to be made by a South African company. Whereas we have hundreds of thousands of tons of industrial cannabis in Mpondoland right now as I’m speaking to you.
So, we have to beg the question, Chair, whether this Bill is fit for purpose, and we submit, it is not.
And to conclude, Chair, the privacy judgement of the Constitutional Court indeed allows all adult South Africans to cultivate a reasonable amount of cannabis for personal consumption. The judgement was celebrated all over the world and indeed by many South Africans. The comments from civil society have been very substantive and the purpose of the law-making process and why public participation is so critical, is that those affected by legislation know how they’re going to be affected, because they have been affected for the last 100 years which is only the time cannabis has been prohibited.
So, to finally conclude, Chair, we would submit that the Portfolio Committee consult with the National Executive, and indeed with President Ramaphosa, to see and align the process the President has recently spoken about in his State of the Nation Address which seems disjointed with this private purposes bill, which, with all due respect, is rather late to the party.
I would like to thank you Chair, for the opportunity to present, and the lengths this committee has gone to encourage public participation.