The cannabis economy has piqued public interest.
South Africa has not yet fully legalised the commercial production and trading of cannabis. Yet the countries in which cannabis trading has been legalised continue to reap billions in profit, create more jobs and receive good tax revenue for those governments.
Many countries have moved from the narrow use of this plant for smoking or recreational use because they realise the herb offers more medicinal and health properties – as well as economic benefits – than just a puff.
New industries have been created by entrepreneurs using cannabis as the main ingredient for products such as oil, beer, cosmetic products, drinks, pills and medicine.
A glance at companies pumping money into cannabis production, packaging, processing and trading – some of which are listed on various stock exchanges – proves that the smart money is on the green herb.
For South Africa’s economy to grow, the country needs to tap into emerging economies so that new growth engines are started which will benefit all our people.
We have a choice to either join the emerging cannabis economy or watch as we did with the industrialisation of our mineral resources, which resulted in foreign companies mining minerals in South Africa but processing them outside our country and benefiting those economies.
Given the abundance of cannabis in the Eastern Cape, the reported potency of its cultivar and the existing skills to plant, produce, harvest and sell the herb, the time has come for the province to open up and take advantage of the potentially huge economic spin-offs, including the creation of jobs and the establishments of contracts for farmers and traders.
The first point for us is to legalise the production, use and trading of cannabis so that everything we do is within the legal framework regulated by the Constitution of our country.
It is important for society to embrace the broader use of cannabis beyond simply recreational smoking.
By obtaining legislative approval of the use, production and trading of the herb, we will have to set in motion regulatory mechanisms to prevent medical problems. Cannabis farmers need to be prevented from abuse by profit chasers and monopolies.
We need to protect the intellectual property, including the skills to produce the herb, from economic vultures hovering around the province to snatch their lucrative prey.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done by both national and provincial government.
We need to engage potential investors looking at setting up cannabis production facilities in our province.
We are in this to create jobs, business contracts for the people of the Eastern Cape province, which is why we are putting them first as we pursue this emerging economy.
It is imperative that work being done by government entities be streamlined into one process so that government support is structured to support villagers growing the herb, ensuring they benefit from the cannabis economy.
There is no dispute that for this economy to fully benefit the people of the province – and the rest of the country – we need support from municipalities and broader government institutions. There is no reason for the government not to invest money for research and development and to set up cannabis-related industries.
Given our ongoing investment into the agriculture sector, the Eastern Cape has no choice but to get involved in affirming the cannabis economy for our growth and that of the country.
Because cannabis has always been grown, produced and distributed in this province – albeit illegally – there is already a base from which to launch a massive economy that can buoy herb growing, especially in rural villages which could become active economic centres and not the poverty-stricken places some are.
However growing the herb is not enough. We need to concretise plans to process, package and export finished products to major markets in other provinces and countries.
We intend assembling a team of experts to advise the provincial government on seamless and better processes to coordinate the work done.
Such a team will include constitutional law experts to advise on speeding up broader herb affirmative legislation and scientists to provide scientific advice for production and use.
Because we want to grow the economy, we will include economists to map out market opportunities for trade, business processes and opportunities for producers and traders.
We will invest on social facilitation, community engagement and develop a medical support programme so that we can provide broader support to people in the province, especially those that continue to smoke cannabis.
One of the things we cannot run away from is that the illegal production and trading has given some villagers a source of income, production skills and trading mechanisms that will be critical when the herb is fully legalised.
This emerging economy demands configuration of our thinking as government and broader society to create the resources, skills and knowledge that will ensure our province benefits from the cannabis economy. This is one match we are not going to watch from the sidelines. We are in it to win it.
Mabuyane is the premier of the Eastern Cape, provincial chairperson of the ANC