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Cyril’s SONA Pledges Cautiously Welcomed by Cannabis Stakeholders – Now It All Comes Down to Implementation

Cyril’s pro-cannabis SONA gets thumbs-up, but what about the local market?

Cannabis stakeholders have broadly welcomed industry President Ramaphosa’s undertaking in SONA 2022 to kickstart the cannabis economy.  However, several players have raised concern that unless Ramaphosa’s words translate into action towards legalizing a domestic market, the sector will not get out of the starting blocks.


Delivering SONA in Cape Town on 10 February 2022, President Ramaphosa committed South Africa to developing a new cannabis economy, saying that the “We will review the regulatory framework will be reviewed for “industrial hemp and cannabis to realize huge potential for investment and job creation”


Gareth Prince of the South African Cannabis Development Council told Newsroom Afrika TV on 11 February 2022: “We are enheartened by the President’s announcement, but we have to stress that any development that is not centred around including dagga, and South Africa’s other most important resource, it’s people, is bound not to be sustainable.


Prince: too much emphasis on hemp, what about the whole plant?

He said government was putting too much emphasis on hemp, for which seeds had to be imported. “Our cannabis programme should be centred around our own landraces, and as the President said, he will remove obstacles with regard to the regulatory framework and that has been our biggest stumbling block so far, because our Government does not seem to have a coherent or co-ordinated plan to industrialize or commercialize cannabis”.


Prince also pointed out that SA’s legsislative process required public participation and this had been absent in the drawing up of the National Cannabis Master Plan and the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill. “Our primary frustration is that we have been excluded from the process and it seems like foreign thinking is influencing the minds of our decision-makers”.


Speaking on the same programme Sibusiso Xaba, CEO of cannabis advisory group ACA, said “The President’s words were encouraging because it does seem that government-enabled investment vehicles will begin to support the industry by way of capital”.


“If the Government does keep its word, rural growers and communities, will eventually have a means to commercially sell cannabis in South Africa.


Xaba: as much risk of cannabis sector failing as succeeding

Xaba said government appeared to have a staged approach to legalization, first with medicinal cannabis, now with hemp, but that the issue of a legal domestic market was a critical if the sector was to have a meaningful impact on the lives of the rural poor. “But that’s a can they keep kicking down the road” he said. He said lack of government co-ordination meant that legislative processes that should be taking a year to 18 months were taking up to 5 years.


 “There is as much risk of this industry failing as there is of it succeeding and the nuance in how we develop the industry will determine where we land.”


Xaba said there were “certain components within the government’s plan that are potentially very risky for the viability of the industry”, one of the main ones being setting THC limits in hemp too low for the country’s growing environment. He said Government wanted to set THC limits at 0,2% in hemp, whereas it would be more realistic to set these at 1%.


Private Purposes Bill ‘not the solution’

One of the major problems with the SONA pledges, said Dr Keith Scott of the South Africa Drug Policy Initiative, was that that government appeared still to be committed to get the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill into law as part of the new regulatory framework.


“The big problem is the Bill that is going through is completely inappropriate because of two main reasons. It doesn’t describe how this should be done. It also is discriminatory because if the bill says people can grow and use cannabis in their private homes. But millions of people, according to the Bill, they will not be allowed to grow – technically they can’t use it – because there are often children there. The only way it is going to happen is if they legalize cannabis completely and put it on the same sought of legal framework as we do with alcohol. 


Xaba agreed that the Bill was “a big disappointment” in that stakeholders were hoping it would open up a regulated commercial framework that would empower small businesses and individuals, “but that the Bill literally went only as far as it had to go in order to satisfy Judge Zondo’s (2018 decriminalization) ruling”.

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