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Editorial: Can cannabis save SA’s economy?

It’s not just stoners who should welcome the news that it is now not a criminal offence to smoke cannabis in private —although they are doubtless celebrating the Constitutional Court decision in a haze of blue smoke. The ruling is also welcome news for sufferers of common but crippling ailments such as arthritis, anxiety, insomnia and migraines, because they cannot be prosecuted.

But it is still a crime to commercially grow cannabis, or to refine it into the oils and creams —often stripped of the active ingredient that gets smokers high —which are usually preferred for medicinal purposes. So the cannabis industry must still operate underground and, crucially, the state cannot benefit from the cannabis-growing business.

This presents an opportunity. South Africa’s economy needs a lifeline, and President Cyril Ramaphosa is due to approve an enormous economic stimulus plan on Friday. Fully legalising cannabis,and its cultivation and refining, should be part of that plan.

The example of Colorado, the American state that legalised cannabis in 2014, is instructive. In 2017, medical and recreational cannabis sales reached $1.51-billion,according to official figures. The state collected $247-million in taxes and fees linked to the industry.

What’s stopping South Africa from following in Colorado’s footsteps? After all, Southern Africa has the climate for it, as anyone who has sampled Durban Poison or Swazi Gold can attest. Both are world-famous cannabis strains.

But we must act fast: already Lesotho has granted a commercial licence for the production of medical cannabis, making it a pioneer on the continent.

Fully legalising cannabis will create a new, lucrative industry —one with potential to create jobs, raise tax revenue, attract tourists and grow the economy. It is high time that South Africa’s lawmakers passed new laws to do just that.

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