In a move to develop, commercialise and remove stigma associated with dagga, the Eastern Cape government has approved the setting up of a cannabis college.
Although the details and other logistics are still being worked out, Rural Development and Agrarian Reform MEC Nomakhosazana Meth tabled the proposal in the provincial Parliament and it was agreed to.
“The provincial government has accepted the proposal. There is a lot to be put in place first, things such as the legislative framework, the licensing regime and removing longstanding stigma. A building has already been identified and it is awaiting the final legislative processes to be in place,” said Ayongezwa Lungisa, spokesperson for rural development and agrarian reform.
This follows South Africa’s realisation of the economic potential of the cannabis industry if it is properly regulated and the product is rescheduled as an agricultural crop rather than a drug as it currently is.
“The Eastern Cape government has taken a decision to support and facilitate legitimate production of cannabis in the province for the growth and transformation of its economy. Cannabis stakeholders in the province resolved that, among other things, the provincial government would facilitate investors and markets, support farmers with hemp permits, and assist in reviewing the South African cannabis legislation to support the production of cannabis,” Lungisa told City Press.
Meth has already engaged investors in Canada, which is one of the fastest-moving countries towards relaxing cannabis legislation and allowing for its commercial production.
Lungisa said Canadian investors had shown interest in investing in South Africa: “The investors committed themselves to opening processing plants, training farmers in growing and processing cannabis, and helping to market the final product. However, they want South Africa to have in place the right legal framework to start production.”
The provincial government will assist the farmers with, among other inputs, seed, fertilisers and fencing.
“The provincial government is planning road shows where information on cannabis will be disseminated to interested rural farmers, some of whom are already cultivating cannabis illegally.”
Experts say that, for South Africa to fully realise the economic benefits of the cannabis industry, dagga should first be reclassified as an agricultural crop and not as weed, which reinforces its stigma.
Agricultural economists say that the country should have a clear, sound licensing regime with a single authority that will make determinations about the various types of licences, such as for scientific and medicinal use, as well as dispensary and industrial hemp production.
“This would mean recognition of cannabis as an agricultural crop through rescheduling, as well as a key ingredient in medical use. It is important that South Africa has a simple, clear and predictable licensing regime that is aimed at promoting economic growth, competitiveness and economic inclusion,” said Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA, in an interview with City Press.
However, Nelson Mandela University economic professor Ronney Ncwadi disagrees: “There is a moral contestation about [cannabis] being wrong, so on that score it is going to be met with a lot of opposition from various retailers as well as nongovernmental and faith-based organisations that are anti-[cannabis], and which see it as a doorway to other drugs. If it does yield positive outcomes it will have social costs, so it depends if the social costs outweigh the social benefits,” he argued.