South Africa is on the cusp of its own booming – and legal – cannabis industry

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane wants to make the province home to South Africa’s first cannabis industry – already reading proposals from interested international parties, and working on feasibility studies to register farms.

Speaking to the City Press, Mabuyane said that people had been growing cannabis in the province for years, but now the opportunity exists to formalise it, and turn it into a lucrative industry.

He said that the stigma attached to cannabis is that of smoking and getting high, but in markets in Europe and Canada, there is a large industry built around the plant, which includes medicines, bio-fuels and other products.

“It’s a huge business. We are looking at this cannabis industry as an industry that can definitely turn around [the economy] and it talks directly to our people where they are,” he said.

The premier said that he is working through the legal channels to formalise such an industry, and added that those who had already been growing the plants illegally should “be embraced” and helped to register as legitimate farmers.

In May, the City of Cape Town announced that it will release vacant land for the production of medical cannabis, with the city hoping to get its foot in the door of what’s considered an ‘untapped sector’ in South Africa.

The set-up of the facility will bring with it an investment of R638 million in capital expenditure during the construction of phase one, the city said. Additionally, a further R1.5 billion will be invested during phase two which is expected to commence in 2023.

Regulatory hurdles

To accomplish the goal of building a formal dagga industry, South Africa still needs to overcome a few regulatory hurdles.

The country has already made some headway into decriminalising the plant, with a Constitutional Court ruling from September 2018 stating that it is not a criminal offence for an adult citizen to use, possess or grow cannabis in private for personal consumption.

However, the rules are still unclear. The court gave parliament 24 months from the date of the judgment to bring the ruling in line with South African laws, with a new bill expected to be released soon.

Legislation around cultivation remains unclear.

The government recently de-scheduled some types of cannabis health products, with conditions, making them easier to get hold of.

Cannabis products considered to be health supplements are those containing a daily dose of less than 20mg cannabidiol (CBD), as well as those containing less than 0.001% of THC, or less than 0.0075% CBD.

These products may be bought and sold relatively freely as a result of the exemption published in the Government Gazette on 23 May 2019.

This development has fuelled the false impression among many South Africans that the cannabis market is suddenly opening up to any and all products, said said Julie Oppenheim, a partner at law firm Bowmans.

“However, even this exemption carries limitations,” she said. “It applies only for 12 months and is intended to create an opportunity for the fledgling cannabis industry to engage on a legal framework going forward.

“In the meantime, does this mean that large amounts of cannabis can be freely cultivated in order to manufacture these products? Probably not.

“Remember that the provisions on dealing under the criminal law remain applicable, unless you have a cultivation licence from SAHPRA.”

Until some of the many grey areas in the regulation of cannabis have been clarified, Oppenheim outlined the basic legal position on cannabis in South Africa as follows:

  • You may use it for your personal recreational or medicinal use, alone or with friends and family over the age of 18, in spaces not open to groups other than your own.
  • Grow only as much as necessary for your personal use; where unsure, rather be conservative.
  • Other than in the case of specific health supplements and processed hemp fibre detailed above, buying and selling cannabis or any cannabis-containing product is currently not legally permissible.

Read: Everything you need to know about South Africa’s weed laws – and what’s coming next

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South Africa is on the cusp of its own booming – and legal – cannabis industry