Black farmers protest against Sahpra's medicinal cannabis licensing process

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A worker inspects medicinal cannabis plants at a medical cannabis farm.
A worker inspects medicinal cannabis plants at a medical cannabis farm.
Robert Atanasovski, AFP
  • The Black Farmers' Association of SA has protested against the issuing of cannabis production licences.
  • It says the licencing process favours white international companies.
  • Sahpra has denied any unfairness in what it describes as a rigorous process.

Farmers and cultural organisations have protested against the issuing of licences for the production of cannabis, accusing the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) of favouring "affluent white people" and international companies.

But the authority has denied the allegations.

The Black Farmers' Association of South Africa (BFASA) and its affiliates protested at Sahpra's Pretoria offices on Thursday. They charged that the process excluded indigenous people from receiving medicinal cannabis licences.

"This means that Sahpra has been given authority to decide how to issue cannabis licences to [the] public, but Sahpra colleagues always maintain that [the] Minister of Health is responsible for the act that directs Sahpra [on] how to issue these licences to white international companies. We feel that the skew[ed] allocation of these licences to white companies, it is a crime against the black economic empowerment policy and the Constitution of our country," the BFASA said in a statement.

READ | OPINION | SA needs to act now to maximise benefits of cannabis sector

The organisation argued that while legislation did not prescribe who licences should be issued to, Sahpra allegedly favours "white international companies".

"Sahpra's process; fees for applications of licences show [a] radical fight against transformation. This is the highest form of segregating people from rural areas [of] which [the] majority [are] previously disadvantaged," the statement read.

BFASA is now calling for all "issued illegitimate licences" to be revoked.

"Sahpra is a constitutional delinquent when it comes to [the] issuing of these licences; therefore, they need to shut down," the organisation said.

However, the regulatory authority has denied the claims.

"The allegation that the Sahpra board chairperson, Prof Helen Rees, and the CEO, Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, are issuing medicinal cannabis licences to affluent white people on the directive of the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, is far from the truth. The minister is not involved in any way with Sahpra operational processes such as the issuance of licences and neither has he issued such a restrictive directive. Sahpra denies this flawed allegation unequivocally," the organisation said in a statement.

There is a strict process and strict protocols involved in the issuing of licences, it added.

"The process to obtain a licence from Sahpra to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes is a rigorous one. There needs to be standardisation of the cannabis cultivars and assurance that crops can be grown under conditions of strict security. The cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes requires strict control as South Africa is a signatory to international treaties that prohibit the production and supply of narcotic and psychotropic drugs, including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961," the authority's statement read.

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