Things are heating up on the legalisation front with 3 separate Bills drawing 3 different pictures of what legal cannabis could look like in South Africa. We’ve taken a long hard look at all of the Bills and what they encompass to bring you the lowdown on what you need to know.
Medical Innovation Bill
Primarily focussed on legalising the medical applications of cannabis, with a very narrow caveat for the potential legalisation of hemp and recreational use as well, this Bill intends to see that at least one pilot hospital programme is launched to facilitate a minimum of 100 medical marijuana patients. It goes on to permit medical practitioners the freedom to depart from mainstream accepted medicines and offer patients options that are consistent with those that stem from the Bill.
Nothing is said about the production, regulation or distribution of the medical cannabis products envisioned by the Bill. Nor is there much optimism amongst the pro-legalisation fraternity. There is a big risk that local politicians will use the legalisation of medical marijuana to pigeonhole the legalisation of recreational use for decades. Much like the many medical marijuana businesses in the USA that now often oppose recreational use in order to maintain monopolies in a medicinal cannabis industry that has long enjoyed practically no competition from legal recreational sales.
With the nefarious presence of everything from bread cartels to rife political corruption in SA, the Medical Innovation Bill’s intentions may be gobbled up by government maladministration, tenderpreneurs and cronyism. Another difficult dynamic is deciding what 100 people will be considered privilegedly sick enough to participate in a pilot programme that may just be a reinvention of the international medical marijuana wheel. An ethical dilemma if ever there was one.
Cannabis Control Bill
Dealing directly with the recreational use and distribution of legal cannabis; this Bill looks at elements such as licensed growing, age limits, product labeling, medicinal use for children and advertising. Proposed is an anti-monopoly and anti-GMO model of cannabis growers, co-operatives, distributors and retailers that would be subject to strict regulation. The outcomes of the Bill are clearly stipulated in line with harm reduction policies and disempowering black market trade, while addressing the matter of those who are currently in prison or have a criminal record for a cannabis conviction.
Likely objections may arise to the small area grow limit proposed for individuals (5m²) and 10 member co-ops (50m²). Large scale growers may object to only being able to grow cannabis on 10% of their property up to a maximum of 5 hectares, potentially making it uneconomical to produce products on a commercially viable level. The high level of regulation involved for this model may also pose its own challenges for controlling what could be a very fragmented production and supply chain.
Relinquish Dagga Law Bill
Proposed is that the prohibition of cannabis should be stripped from all South African laws and prisoners be given a presidential pardon regarding cannabis only charges. Public use would be confined to the existing limits imposed on tobacco users and public awareness programmes based on objective evidence. Interestingly, the Bill seeks that there be no limit on the amount of cannabis that adults can cultivate or possess.
This brief Bill uses a broad brush to bring down the walls of prohibition; elements such as regulated retail sales and the need for quality are not addressed in any detail.
In summary, we have 3 Bills that are moving in the same direction in varying degrees. They identify with an assortment of aspects that reflect the many facets of local cannabis legalisation, but none of which tackle the on the ground dynamics of a legal demand, in what would need to be a profitable enough industry to incentivise investment.