|1 Mar 2023|
|Cannabis Society for ODs|
DISCLAIMER: Please note that the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and no liability for its content will attach to Bishops or the Old Diocesan Union.
An Opinion Piece by George Joubert: Why won't the South African Government give Previously Disadvantaged Communities the Cannabis laws needed to lift themselves out of poverty?
Recently I sat through two days of parliamentary hearings covering the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill and the most remarkable aspect was that the SA Cannabis industry largely speaks with a united voice.
Speaker after speaker emphasised the need to shape an industry which would benefit our unique cultural, biological, social and environmental attributes. We are the third largest consumer and producer of Cannabis in the world. Surely it would make sense to bring the marginalised communities that service this crucial, albeit illicit economy into the mainstream where everyone would benefit through a more transparent approach? Instead of treating cannabis users and producers as criminals we could address our massive unemployment problems and start tackling rural epidemics like Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and GBV.
It seems that government has ignored this advice and published a set of rules that are slavishly adhering to what I feel to be, the illogical rules of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) .
A great example of this is the arbitrary definition of hemp as being Cannabis Sativa with a THC content below 0.2%. THC is the Cannabis plant's natural sunblock – the 'brighter' the sun the more THC the plant naturally produces. Since SA has one of the richest spectra of sunlight on the planet, a strain that produces 0.1% THC in Europe will probably produce 1% THC in parts of South Africa. This seems rather hypocrical considering that in the US many states allow THC percentages of up to 2% in their Industrial hemp crop.
Under our current laws all plant material exceeding these absurdly low limits must be destroyed. The farmer might have wanted to use the entire biomass as a cover crop, or for tillage, or to sequester heavy metals from his soil – regardless he will have to destroy this valuable commodity.
I am working with a selection of commercial farmers clamouring to grow thousands of hectares of hemp, and I am advising them against doing so given the current legal framework and lack of political will to build a sustainable hemp industry. It would be bad enough if the current system failed only the commercial farmers, but the requirements will literally be impossible for the small-scale farmers to comply with, thus offering them the choice between continuing to grow their cannabis illegally, or allowing their families to starve.
It appears that our country is using discriminatory laws to criminalise the marginalised who were hoping to be free of this under a new government.
Perhaps an even bigger blight on the recently published hemp regulations in their current form, is that they completely ignore the rich diversity and unique attributes of our African Cannabis 'Landrace Strains'. Landraces are strains that have adapted to the unique conditions prevailing in a particular micro-climate – Cannabis Sativa changes its composition in a fundamental manner due to these Epigenetic changes. The epigenetics affects the profile of the plant almost as much as the actual genetics of the seed. So instead of focusing our efforts on the incredible landraces we already have – highly sought after globally for the medicinal and wellness characteristics – we are building our industry around imported genetics that are bound to perform differently under local conditions.
Our landraces are water-wise and reflect the incredible terpenes of the Cape Floristic Region (for example) and yet we are going to ignore these and introduce alien genetics. Currently no-one is legally able to produce our landraces for domestic commercial or medicinal uses, with the very real danger that they get lost due to the tsunami of imported genetics already servicing our domestic market. Cannabis plants also cross-pollinate with each other – with pollen able to carry kilometres on the right breeze – so any introduction of new genetics dilutes the unique attributes of the local landraces.
A question that I am asking is, " Why are we trying to build a medicinal cannabis industry hamstrung by EU-GMP Phytosanitary standards (don't get me started) when we have a myriad natural cures and uses for our cannabis strains handed down through our Sangomas and Healers for millennia."
How can we ignore this incredible knowledge-base and the dignity of the people using this plant to heal their people? Ironically the world is moving towards Cannabis medication grown organically and outdoors as much as possible, thus playing into the hands of our existing cannabis industry. Many of our strains produce incredible levels of THCV – a cannabinoid highly sought after for its pain management abilities – it occurs naturally and in great abundance when grown in the traditional manner.
Sadly, I know of numerous intrepid souls who set out to grow medicinal cannabis in South Africa – investing tens of millions in the process – only to be stuck with a ton or more of cannabis that does not match the aforementioned EU-GMP standards, nor do our laws allow them to turn this incredible harvest into crude oil for the domestic medical industry. In the process any excess microbes or heavy metals could be extracted leaving a product highly suited to many applications.
It seems that we are stuck with very prescriptive laws and a government not willing to engage her citizens in a constructive discussion around the future of Cannabis but, all is not lost. We have an active citizenry and a highly passionate cannabis community in Mzansi that is lobbying both within the bounds of the law and in broader spaces to encourage meaningful change.
I believe that a sustainable, inclusive and vertically integrated South African cannabis industry is within our reach – we need to continue striving to achieve this goal speedily if we are to address our nation's need!
During the last twenty years George has been self-employed . Excited by the confluence of his two great passions – property and Cannabis – George believes the Cannabis plant will aid South Africa in resolving issues of self-sufficiency for small-scale farmers, and therefore alleviate economic impoverishment where it is needed most. By working with landowners large and small, George aims to improve security of tenure and create large-scale employment.
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