Since the landmark ruling by the constitutional court in September 2018 to decriminalise the personal use of marijuana South Africa became only the third country in Africa to legalise marijuana, after neighbours Lesotho and Zimbabwe. Much debate sparked across the country with many left with more questions than answers. What started at the Cape Town High Court in 2017 is a journey that has seen many across the country advocating for the personal use of marijuana to be decriminalised.
With research studies by the Medical Research Council (MRC) reporting that the number of cannabis users in South Africa was 2.2 million in 2004, and 3.2 million in 2008. Undoubtedly these figures have increased, and with an increase in demand, it raises the need for supply. The question is then, how is the demand to be met when the sale and purchase of marijuana are still illegal. Added to that is that any resident or visitor found participating in these activities can face harsh penalties.
Also included in the constitutional court is that parliament needs to amend the constitution within 24 months to bring the country's laws in line with its ruling. This means that although criminal punishment has been lifted, South Africa's cannabis market is still not regulated.
The question on everybody's mind now is how the people on the ground can benefit from a clear and concise law allowing for the commercial marijuana industry. Most importantly for us in the Eastern Cape, how does the Eastern Cape agriculture sector benefit from this?
LICENSING THE INDUSTRY
A handful of countries within the SADC region have spearheaded the marijuana reform program, and this has seen Lesotho and Zimbabwe issuing their first licences for production in 2018 and early 2019 respectively.
In Lesotho, the ministry of health is the licensing authority, and all applications undergo vetting through the Lesotho Narcotics Control Board. The licensees have to meet a set of requirements, which include access to land and commitment from off-takers, to prevent diversion to illicit markets. The process can take up to a maximum of six months.
The fee to obtaining the licence costs up to an equivalent of R540 00 and renewed annually for R130 000 in Lesotho, - the question is, how much would the price be in South Africa. How will this affect small and micro farmers looking to enter the industry?
The price tag associated with acquiring the license to trade is the breaking point between the industry being run by big industry players and sideling smaller producers to the shadows of illegality. This could be the contributing factor in further increasing the socio-economic gap between the have and have nots.
ACTION FROM PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT
If actions are anything to go by, our provincial government is at the forefront of harvesting the fruits that will come with a formalised marijuana industry.
When speaking at the cannabis stakeholder engagement at the International Convention Centre in East London, - Eastern Cape premier Lubabalo Oscar Mabuyane said. "If the Eastern Cape plays its cards right to formalise its cannabis industry, the province could have a thriving economy."
The Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform organised the stakeholder engagement to discuss issues of legalisation. These include a license application process, market analysis and economic contribution to the provincial Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Mabuyane said: "Our agenda is to create a thriving, legal cannabis economy in our province to create jobs for our people. This means we must want to focus on using cannabis for medicinal use to cure ailments such as asthma. We want to use it to manufacture products such as fibre that is used to build aeroplanes; we want to use it as clothing material; we want to use it to produce biofuels and other essentials products that are used globally."
A study by Interpol in 2004 placed South Africa in fourth place among the largest producers of cannabis, with most of it being produced in the Eastern Cape. No time is better than the present to take advantage of this economy.
Reports by international experts at a conference held in Sandton in August show that South Africa could unlock an R107 billion marijuana industry if the government passes the necessary regulations to make it happen. Coupled to that report, the United Nations has reported that South Africa is already the third-largest producer of marijuana and related products (hemp, oils, etc.) on the African continent, producing 2,300 tons of the plant annually.
With only 3.5% of the population consume the product, the international body said, leaving the bulk of it ready for export to significant marijuana consuming (and by-product) markets. With these figures, the Eastern Cape can take full advantage of the existing possibilities. All that is needed is for the government to legalise and put clear and concise measures for the cultivation of this industry. This will, in turn, benefit the masses of our province.
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