On Saturday, multiple groups protested on the lawn of the central government buildings in Pretoria over slow and haphazard reform now underway
Things are getting confrontational on the cannabis front in South Africa right now. Namely, the government is moving forward on a cannabis legalization bill that has met with opposition at almost every juncture from advocates, farmers, and the rest of the nascent domestic industry.
Under the umbrella of the Cannabis Mass Action Committee, a memorandum of demands was handed to a government representative reporting to the office of the President last Saturday. The letter said that both cannabis legalization and proper regulations to create a world-class industry were “disjointed, unfocused, and taking too long.”
As Linda Siboto, the director and co-founder of Cheeba Africa, a cannabis education academy in Johannesburg said, “We’ve been given the constitutional right to grow and consume it, but we haven’t been given the right to trade with it. Rural farmers have not been included in any of the master plans that have come from the government
The protesters have also pointed out that so far, the only companies who have been allowed to begin cultivation are firms with access to foreign capital that most South African farmers cannot compete with.
Calls have also been made to place a moratorium on arrests.
While advocacy groups if not the business community may feel similarly right now everywhere (see Germany and the US for starters), it is hard not to have sympathy for the South Africans’ protest.
South Africa’s place in the global cannabis conversation is undisputed. The question remains however whether the government will, sadly rarely, do the right thing.
Unlike Thailand, for example, the South African government seems determined to sell the industry here to the highest bidders – a disastrous policy far from cannabis – that is highly unsustainable in a number of ways. In the cannabis example, however, such strategies have been repeatedly proven to fail in North America and Europe too.
A Brief History of South African Cannabis Reform
In 2018, the South African Constitutional Court declared that both the Drugs and Medicines Act were unconstitutional in barring cannabis consumption. They also gave Parliament 24 months to fix the issues. This, while certainly a way to light a fire under legislators, does not always move forward quickly. See not only Canada but, more recently Mexico, where similar legal challenges were necessary to push any kind of reform, starting with medical.
Four years later, the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill still languishes, unpassed.
Part of this delay is undoubtedly Covid. However, beyond this, there have been multiple protests about gross miscalculations, including the fact that the bill could actually make life worse for those who hope to make a living farming the new crop, starting with jail time.
Smaller farmers, South Africa’s answer to “legacy” farmers in the west, not to mention mom and pops and craft growers, are being entirely left out of the legalization discussion.
The South African government, tragically, has been on a destructive course ever since the death of Nelson Mandela. Now, it appears doomed to make the same mistakes that have haunted the cannabis industry everywhere else – from North and South America to Europe.
Namely, rather than finding sustainable ways to create a lasting industry that is sustainable but does not economically rape farmers in the process, it is bowing to advise from those who have repeatedly benefitted initially from this kind of strategy in other countries (starting with Canada).
Perhaps the forward motion of the German recreational cannabis conversation will help put some fire under the South African (not to mention other national governments).
Tragically, it appears, however, that South Africa is joining the list of nations that have had to learn this the hard way. The German government relied on Canadians and excluded Germans from participating in the first round of the cultivation bid in 2017.
However, hopefully, the increasingly organized and vocal, not to mention globally connected South African industry is making sure that its voice is heard – not just in South Africa’s Parliament, but around the world.