South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says his government will speed up cannabis and hemp regulations, given the huge potential for investment and job creation.
On Thursday, during his state of the nation speech, Ramaphosa explained that while his government is helping existing industries grow, it’s also looking at new opportunities in sectors with high potential.
“Our people in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere are ready to farm with this age-old commodity and bring it to market in new and innovative forms,” he said at Cape Town’s city hall.
The cannabis and hemp sector has the potential to create more than 130,000 new jobs, he noted.
“We are therefore streamlining the regulatory processes so that the hemp and cannabis sector can thrive like it is in other countries such as Lesotho.”
In 2018, South Africa’s constitutional court ruled that the government couldn’t restrict citizens from growing and consuming cannabis at home. That decision gave lawmakers two years to come up with legislation.
While at first the ruling seemed like an opportunity to enter into the global cannabis market, 2020’s Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill has been widely criticized for its steep penalties and confusing rules.
According to the bill, people who smoke cannabis in public can be imprisoned for up to two years, and if they do it in front of children, they could face four years behind bars.
The bill expunges minor offences, but doesn’t clarify law enforcement actions. It’s also short on rules for commercialization, which has largely stalled an industry from developing.
Advocates have denounced the bill because in practice it only benefits people who have space to grow and consume pot in privacy, while steep penalties put more pressure on poor, vulnerable communities.
The bill is currently being reviewed in South Africa’s parliament.
In response to the unpopular bill, the South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) presented a cannabis master plan last summer designed to finally get the industry off the ground.
The plan creates a seed registration and certification scheme, while leveraging traditional knowledge to support research and program development.
It provides technical and financial support to farmers and develops the local market. It aims to facilitate new export markets for South African products. It also implements education and training programs.
The bill was on parliaments’ justice committee agenda for two days last September to focus on public feedback, but little progress has been made since.