Legalising the cannabis economy takes a Covid-19 hit

Delays in passing new laws governing the possession and use of cannabis, caused by the Covid-19 lockdown, have placed on hold the development of a different kind of green economy mentioned by President Cyril Rampahosa in his February State of the Nation address.

The delays in promulgating the Regulation of Cannabis Bill and additional changes to the Medicine and Related Substances Control Act mean the state will not meet the September 2020 deadline set by the Constitutional Court in the 2018 judgment declaring the prohibition on cannabis cultivation, possession and use unconstitutional.

This week the department of justice and constitutional development’s spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, confirmed the delay in passing the Bill, a draft of which was circulated to state agencies and government departments for comment and input during January. 

In February, the Mail & Guardian reported that a leaked draft of the Bill had presented different options for the legalisation of cannabis, one based on a prohibitive model and the other on commercial model, with government departments being asked to consider the effect of both before making their final submissions. 

But the draft itself only went as far as laying down limits for personal use and gave no framework for a commercial cannabis trade.


Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has subsequently been publicly supportive of the commercial model, which provincial premiers in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape have backed. It would incorporate existing illegal commercial growers into a formalised cannabis economy. 

“This year we will open up and regulate the commercial use of hemp products, providing opportunities for small-scale farmers; and formulate policy on the use of cannabis products for medicinal purposes, to build this industry in line with global trends,” the president said in his address.

Phiri said the delays were a result of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations affecting the sitting of parliamentary committees and the ability to hold a public participation process.

Last year a cannabis consultancy, Prohibition Partners, estimated the value of the South African domestic cannabis market — excluding non-psychoactive cannabidiol products that are available legally — at about R27-billion annually by 2023. The delay in a move towards a legal framework for the cannabis economy has serious implications for the state, particularly with the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy.

Phiri said the department had finalised the draft Bill addressing the unconstitutional provisions of the Drugs Act as ordered by the court. The amendments to the medicines control legislation was being dealt with by the department of health.

“The state of disaster will impact negatively on the timelines for the finalisation of the Bill, due to the impact on the public consultation process and introducing the Bill into Parliament and finalisation before the deadline of September 17, 2020,” Phiri said.

A number of departments, the police and the prosecuting authority had made their inputs to the Bill, which would be put out for public comment when the process opened up. But Phiri was not able to say when this would take place.

“It is not possible to provide an estimate of when the Bill will be finalised by Parliament. Even in the normal course of events the department would not be able to determine the parliamentary timeframes,” he said.

Paul-Michael Keichel of Schindlers, a Johannesburg-based legal firm specialising in the cannabis industry, said there had been no public process or publication of a draft.

“We do not really have insight into what the government is planning as a whole. We are reasonably certain, however, that different departments, for example agriculture, fisheries and land reform, and trade and industry, are pushing for the rolling out of hemp and even cannabis proper, whereas health and justice, or at least certain vocal people within them, are far less keen. Government is yet to speak with one voice,” Keichel said.

It would be “‘short-sighted” for the government to allow people to grow, use and share cannabis privately, but then refuse to formalise an industry that could create many jobs and bring in significant tax revenue.

“We are facing an unprecedented situation and the government should be entertaining anything that could viably allow for entrepreneurship, innovation and an economic boost. Worldwide cannabis is proving to be one such thing. If the government wants us to believe that such a trend should not establish itself here, then it needs to tell us why not,’’ he said.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Narend Singh, who had been driving the process around a medicinal cannabis Bill, said the party had agreed to withdraw the legislation in return for the state amending the existing legislation to allow for the production of medicinal cannabis products.

A number of licences have been granted for growing hemp and cannabis for medical purposes.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

Related stories

Johannesburg cannot police its future

South Africa’s biggest city is ground zero for debates about the long-term effectiveness and constitutionality of militarised urban policing and how we imagine the post-Covid city

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Fix economy: Cut, build, tax

Expert panel presents a range of solutions to the economic crisis that include cost cutting, infrastructure spending and a solidarity levy

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

Watch it again: Ramaphosa details economic recovery plan

According to the Presidency, the plan aims to expedite, in a sustainable manner, the recovery of South Africa’s economy

The pandemic will change the electoral process

There’s a backlog of by-elections to get through before next year’s local government elections. Will voters go to the polls even though Covid protocols are in place?
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Meyiwa murder case postponed amid drama in court

The murder case of Senzo Meyiwa has been postponed to next month after the appearance of the five suspects in the Boksburg magistrate’s court took an unexpected turn

Does the Expropriation Bill muddy the land question even further?

Land ownership and its equitable distribution has floundered. Changes to a section of the constitution and the expropriation act are now before parliament, but do they offer any solution?

Wheeling and dealing for a Covid-19 vaccine

A Covid-19 jab could cost hundreds of rands. Or not. It’s anyone’s guess. Could another pandemic almost a century ago hold clues for handling the coronavirus today?

The European companies that armed the Ivorian civil war

AN OCCRP investigation reveals that Gunvor and Semlex brokered weapons-for-oil deals in early 2011 when Côte d’Ivoire was in crisis, despite a UN arms embargo
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday