/ 12 December 2022

South African cannabis industry poised for huge growth in 2023

Heads up: Marijuana use is becoming increasingly acceptable in ­Colorado.
The medicinal cannabis market is particularly promising, because nations around the world are beginning to legalise its use for conditions such as Alzheimer's and chronic pain. Photo: Supplied

Globally the cannabis and hemp market are thriving, and African countries are significant contributors to the supply chain. According to The African Cannabis Report, global sales of cannabis-related products and cannabis could reach a total of $102 billion by 2026.

South Africa is still in the early stages of overcoming the various legal, political, and social obstacles it takes to become a major player in the industry but its favourable climate, loosening laws, viable farming land and pre-existing experience in agriculture and hemp production makes it a promising contender.

The medicinal cannabis market is particularly promising, because nations around the world are beginning to legalise its use for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and chronic pain.

Germany recently became the largest and most developed market, with other European countries steadily allowing for its use to treat medical conditions. These countries have been turning to South African producers to source medical cannabis products, because these must often meet the strict regulatory requirements imposed by foreign governments.

Lesotho is leading the medical cannabis charge in the region, but the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority has already issued 76 licences for growing medicinal cannabis. And this is only the beginning. 

There is also a strong pharmaceutical and medical research presence in South Africa, making it an ideal location for research into medicinal cannabis.

In President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2022 State of the Nation address, he announced plans for the growth of the cannabis and hemp industry, recognising the industry’s potential for investment. According to Ramaphosa, “the legal hemp and cannabis sector has the potential to create more than 130 000 new jobs in South Africa”.

In 2021, the South African cannabis industry had an estimated worth of R87.7 million. By 2026 this figure is projected to reach R406.3 million, with a projected growth rate of 28.4%. 

But it doesn’t just take a nod from the commander-in-chief to get the joint rolling – those interested in the cannabis industry still must ensure that they’re legally compliant. 

Different countries regulate the growth and use of marijuana on varying levels, but South Africa has recently found itself on the lax end of the legal spectrum.

Major strides were made in early 2022, as amendments to the Cannabis for Private Purposes bill were tabled in parliament, which will allow for the commercialisation of the sale of cannabis – having previously allowed for only personal, private use.

According to one report: “This subsequent legislation would regulate the recreational industry under a licensing scheme that would provide for different categories of licences for cultivation, sale and processing of cannabis.” 

This is big news for commercial producers, as well as those in rural areas who have historically been involved in cultivating South Africa’s cannabis industry.

Local governments are also getting on board; KwaZulu-Natal recently announced its intention to form a committee to oversee the development of the cannabis industry in the province. 

This comes after Ramaphosa announced that the province would lead the charge in establishing the cannabis industry. This committee will oversee the monitoring, regulatory compliance and technological innovation in the cannabis and hemp industry.

High altitude, plenty of sunlight, and an abundance of land (unsuitable for food crops, but great for hemp) make South Africa an ideal location for productive cannabis crops.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.