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South African Government to Fast Track Cannabis Reform Regulations |

South Africa is almost alone among the sea of global naysayers right now. However, it appears that they are moving ahead, with no restraints, to create a regulatory system for the local cannabis industry. While this has been in the cards since 2019, it has just gotten a turbo boost—and from the president of the country itself.

In his State of the Nation Address on Thursday, February 10, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that the domestic cannabis industry has the potential to create 130,000 new jobs. The creation of a regulatory framework and policy for the operation of the sector is now a priority. 

“We want to harness this,” he said. “We are going to fast-track policy and regulations for the use of cannabis for medical use, especially in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.”

Many predicted that reform would accelerate as COVID is over. The recent focus on reform here is an intriguing turn in events. Although the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill was introduced in September 2020, it has not been moving forward since. This has been the case until now.

Specific guidelines are provided for those wanting to cultivate cannabis. 

Draft bill says that adult may cultivate and possess cannabis in private places, as well as prescribe cannabis to others.

Ramaphosa said that his government and he are trying to find ways for promising new industries, with high potential growth, and a conducive business environment. 

“We are therefore streamlining the regulatory processes so that the hemp and cannabis sector can thrive like it is in other countries such as Lesotho.”

While the decision was not easy to make, it has been a welcome step in the right direction for South Africa’s booming cannabis sector. As of 2018, the country’s constitutional court ruled that private citizens could not be prevented from consuming and cultivating cannabis at home. The decision also gave lawmakers two years to pass legislation—a timetable that has clearly been blown.

Like in Mexico, two additional years have been added to this process by COVID and legislative footdragging. This delay seems to be over.

Are you looking for a big step forward or confusion?

This legislation has so far been heavily criticised for having confusing rules and severe penalties. Although the bill exonerates minor offenses, it doesn’t set a foundation for commercialization. This has been a major problem that has hindered the growth of the sector. It also does not define what the law enforcement can or cannot do. People who smoke in public areas can face two-year imprisonment. People who smoke in public are subject to four year imprisonment.

Advocates also criticize the legislation for only allowing private cannabis cultivation and consumption. The harsh penalties place a burden on those in poverty and other vulnerable groups who don’t have the luxury of growing cannabis privately. On shaky ground, cannabis clubs and other developments have existed.

In response to the criticism, the South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) came up with a “cannabis master plan” last summer to create momentum behind the passage of the legislation. They also provide incentives to farmers and help create an international market. The bill is still in limbo despite all the excitement since September.

Ramaphosa does not react to the global cannabis law reform. He is responding to internal pressure. This includes the urgent need for support to an economy that is in decline and the desire to end social unrest within the country. In fact, the President attended the State of the Union Address wearing shoes and clothes made in the country. 

“We are engaged in a battle for the soul of the country, and we will not be defeated,” he said. 

Rather ironically, given the country’s long and troubled history, for the first time, anywhere in the world, cannabis reform seems to be a big part of bringing peace if not prosperity to South Africa.

Cannabis Reform in Africa

Over the past several years, the whole enchilada in the southern African region has been moving steadily ahead. Last year, Lesotho was the first African country to export to Europe. Other African countries such as Uganda which exports to Israel, Germany, and Zimbabwe are also making progress towards attracting foreign investors. North Morocco, too is making progress.

The export of this plant to Africa is a highly-priced commodity crop, which promises to provide much-needed foreign currency to countries that are struggling economically beyond the Pandemic. 

South Africa is showing strong support for an industry in its own country, which goes beyond high-end exports.

Pot may be a useful political tool for leaders who are facing economic or social instability. The rest of the world might be ready to learn from South Africa’s example.