“Legalise it” has been the call made in many reggae songs and more recently part of serious court arguments over cannabis use in South Africa. Now, thanks to these court cases, Parliament is considering legislation that will legalise certain cannabis production and use.
In this context, the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at UP recently convened a webinar to discuss the bill and what it indicates for the future of the cannabis sector. Panellists with extensive expertise and experience of the issues participated in the discussion, with additional contributions from the audience.
Panellists during the webinar
The panel included Suresh Patel, who is the stakeholder manager for Fields of Green for ALL, an NGO advocating for the just, equitable legalisation of cannabis; Paul-Michael Keichel, who heads Schindlers’ Medicinal and Recreational Cannabis Law Department and played a leading role in some of the cannabis court cases; Philasande Cele, the director of propagation, cultivation and processing at Afrocannabist (Pty) LTD, a group of entrepreneurs aiming to contribute to an inclusive cannabis industry with a meaningful socio-economic impact; and Tracy Muwanga, a postdoctoral fellow at UP who worked on a parliamentary submission on the bill.
The speakers agreed on the need for the regulation of cannabis, but raised concerns with the draft bill, such as it being unreasonably punitive in the punishments for those who exceed the limited quantities of cannabis allowed for private use; forms of discrimination against poorer black people, such as definitions of “private”, that will work against those who don’t own private land and limits on cannabis amounts allowed in one home that will penalise larger households; and likely infringements of people’s right to privacy as enforcement will require police inspecting what people have and do in their homes.
Keichel explained how the bill is not based on any calculation of the relative harm of infringing on freedoms of what we do in private versus the potential harm of cannabis production and use.
The overwhelming consensus was that the bill is not a foundation for a dynamic and safe legal cannabis sector. It misses the social and economic potential of a legal cannabis industry that, among other things, could contribute to new medicines, a free enjoyment of people’s cultural life, job creation in agriculture and processing, economic growth and much-needed revenue collection.
A new process is needed that starts with embracing the potential of the sector, builds on existing production of hundreds of thousands of small-scale black farmers, and involves a wide range of stakeholders, especially existing producers and users.