The 2020 U.S. elections were good news for cannabis laws in the U.S. – several states voted to legalise it for medicinal or recreational use. But it’s not all about the Americans – South Africa has seen some cannabis-related updates too. Although the cannabis industry is still far from legal, these small changes might be steps in the right direction. Here are three major events for cannabis in South Africa.
A Bill has Been Drafted
Private consumption was decriminalised in 2018, but it isn’t always clear what this means in all cases. This year, however, the government has published a draft of the law that will be sent to Parliament for review. Although the draft doesn’t make any huge changes to what is already happening, it is more specific about amounts of cannabis that count as ‘personal use’. This will make it easier for courts and police to decide who gets in trouble for having too much. Their goal is to allow people to do their own thing in their private spaces, but to stop the growth of canna-business.
How did the South African public respond? Most people were not fans. Many argue that these regulations are difficult – if not impossible – to enforce. Others claim that it pretty much defeats the purpose of the court ruling about what people can do in their private space.
Medical cannabis has been allowed in the country for several years now. It is permitted for people who suffer from debilitating pain from issues such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis. Until recently, medical cannabis has been handled by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority. However, in 2019, SAHPRA announced that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) would be taking over.
There has been some back and forth about this for a while, but in 2020 we finally got confirmation about what will happen. It turns out that actually the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALLARD) will be the one giving out licenses for medical marijuana. Now that we have this announcement, we just have to wait for it to be put into practice – which could take a while.
What is cannabis? For some it’s medicine, for some it’s an industrial product (hemp) and for others it’s just a good time. The plant can mean different things to different people, but that makes it hard to regulate when it comes to the law. In order to create legislation around it, it has to be specifically categorised. In terms of its commercialisation and consumption, cannabis is still considered a drug. This means it is controlled by medicinal and criminal standards. However, in terms of industrial use, the minister of health has finally recognised that hemp is for more than just smoking. The level of THC found in hemp plants (as opposed to other cannabis plants) is very low, which means that it is not effective for recreational drug use. Instead, hemp has many other uses. The fibres are strong and durable, and useful for rope, sacks, and canvases. It can also be used to make clothing fabrics that are similar to linen. Another use of hemp is to make bioplastics – something that our landfills and oceans could really use right now.
In the past, hemp has often been restricted along with its more potent cousins. This means that it was harder to use it for non-weed related products. Now that some hemp plants are one step closer to being permitted (only plants with less than 0.2% THC) South African manufacturers will be able to start to use it more. However, there is still a lot of red tape that needs to be worked through.
Of course, what we all want is legalisation and regulation, but South Africa just isn’t there yet. Still, we hope the government will continue to see that cannabis doesn’t pose such a danger to South African society as they may think. Maybe these small changes will mean a step in the right direction, but we can look to these major events for cannabis in South Africa that have happened so far and hold hope for the future.