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Cannabis Reform Bill in South Africa Under Criticism from Unions and Rastas

Everything was meant to be easy. Last year, the national strategy was released for South Africa’s commercialization. This February, the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa said in his state of the nation address that development of the hemp and cannabis sector was a major priority for the country because of the economic engine it represents—including creating an estimated 130,000 new jobs.

According to Ramaphosa, “We are streamlining the regulatory processes so the hemp and cannabis sector can thrive like it is in other countries such as Lesotho,” he said. “Our people in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere are ready to farm with this age-old commodity and bring it to market.”

Think about what President Joe Biden would say.

It isn’t always easy.

The People vs. Politicians

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, the current pending legislation at issue, resulted from a 2018 Constitutional Court ruling, decriminalizing cannabis for private use and cultivation in “private spaces.”

This bill will serve as the industry’s blueprint.

However, the process has faced heavy criticism from a wide range of people and interests.

It starts with the existing entities, such as cannabis clubs. They have been basically left in limbo.

However, the criticisms don’t stop there. Most recently, they include Cosatu, the country’s largest union. They say that the bill is contradictory—and further raised doubts as to the government’s commitment to full reform. It is unclear how commercialization will take place, despite the fact that the bill clearly defines how cannabis can legally be made for personal use. Even more important, it is not clear who will have the right to take part in this.

Cosatu observed that it will confuse both law enforcement and producers.

Moreover, Umzimvubu Farmers Support Network (or UFSN), which represents traditional farmers in the Pondoland, a section of the south-eastern coast that borders Lesotho and is vocally critical about the legislation.

They are most concerned about: Their biggest concern is that they are not being heard by the decision-makers. They also feel the vague definitions of the bill are being ignored by government officials. According to them, “It remains abundantly clear that the Bill does not, even in the slightest, make provision for the centuries old custom of cannabis use and cultivation by the beneficiaries of the UFSN—the same farmers that our Honourable President Ramaphosa specifically mentioned in his most recent State of the Union Address.”

The police have raided UFSN members several times in recent years.

The USFN believes that the current legislation is “lip service” to the idea of cannabis reform that will benefit Indigenous farmers rather than foreign and corporate interests.

The Rastafarian Community has joined them in opposing the proposed provisions of the bill.

Fight Over Formalization South Africa

No matter what the particulars of South Africa’s legalization process, this isn’t an uncommon problem. As the legalization process begins to become regulations, it is happening all around the globe. The people who create the legislation may not be the most knowledgeable about the industry’s dynamics or have any direct connections to them. They also don’t appear to care much about the related issues.

California’s legacy growers feel that they have been left behind in an industry that has developed because of them.

Canada is currently discussing how to reduce patient home growth.

The German debate about domestic cultivation became so tense that the patients who had initially been granted the right to plant their own vegetables, even with a special government license, were denied the same rights when the Bundestag restricted participation to certified Canadian companies.

While legalizing cannabis sounds great in theory, it is increasingly difficult to legislate for legal cannabis.

The questions around who may or may not legally cultivate and sell the plant start with a certification process that is capital intensive—and leaves out precisely the smaller cultivators who stand to benefit the most from full and final reform.

This question has not been addressed in any jurisdiction yet. These issues are likely to prove difficult and emotional. This is why the cannabis market isn’t like other commodities, at least so far. It is expected to remain that way for some time.

These tomato fights are not new.