Narissa Subramoney
Copy rewriter
3 minute read
31 Aug 2021
12:52 pm

The poor must be included in SA’s cannabis industry boom, says Cosatu

Narissa Subramoney

Legalising marijuana usage still largely excludes poorer, black communities from the industry - and the profits.

Cannabis growers cannabis bill Picture: iStock

One of the sore points of legalising marijuana usage is that it still largely excludes poorer, black communities from the industry – and the profits.

Presently, the South African unregulated cannabis industry carries an estimated value of R28 billion. Additionally, some believe that South Africa could be the fourth-largest cannabis producer in the world.

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According to the Pew Research Centre, black-owned cannabis companies are still rare in the US. The country’s legislation still largely excludes African-Americans from the licencing processes, who have historically been imprisoned for selling or consuming cannabis.

Trade union federation Cosatu wants the government to ensure that black producers are not similarly marginalised in the approaching local boom. 

Parliament must address the needs of citizens

Cosatu said it supports the Cannabis for Private Consumption Bill as a start to addressing a complex economic product and social issue. 

The federation is also pleased with the progressive objectives and provisions that will enable effective regulation of the cannabis sector. 

“South Africa needs a humane and progressive approach to cannabis in all its manifestations. It cannot be big industry profits above lives, education, health, jobs and livelihoods,” said Cosatu.

It’s now calling for Parliament to be more proactive in addressing the social needs of citizens through effective public policy initiated and drafted by MPs. 

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The government has so far committed to finalising a Cannabis Master Plan to industrialise and commercialise cannabis to unlock economic opportunities, including the creation of 25,000 jobs.

Cosatu said the Cannabis Master Plan is meant to be a co-creation of public policy among all social partners, and whilst the Nedlac presentation was welcomed, it can’t replace the MP process.

“In this instance, the process was not fully complied with, and many stakeholders in the sector were not engaged.” 

Cosatu lobbies for the poor to be included in the cannabis industry
Picture: Neil McCartney

It’s also concerning that the present bill only allows big pharmaceutical companies to enter the industry first, undermining its developmental focus. 

Case in point: Last June, Goodleaf Company – a premium African CBD wellness brand – merged with Highlands Investments in a deal worth R650 million, with an excess investment of R350 million.

The merger marked the beginning of South Africa’s first seed-to-sale offering.

And not long before that, JSE-listed Labat Africa bought a 75 % stake in Northern Cape cannabis producer Leaf Botanicals, valuing the company at R11 million.

Cosatu lobbies for the poor to be included in the cannabis industry
Cannabis seeds and CBD oil. Picture: istock

“We want to see provisions that ensure that the livelihoods of small growers are not removed by prohibitive entry requirements or domination of the market by big companies,” said Cosatu. 

The labour federation has called for explicit provisions to defend the rights of small growers and assist them in moving up the value chain. 

The federation also wants the draft bill to cancel criminal records of smokers and people who have been criminally charged for possession of minimal amounts of cannabis. 

“Much like the regulation of alcohol and cigarettes, there is a need for a fair and balanced approach to regulating cannabis,” said Cosatu.

“Alcohol is by far the most destructive drug in the society, with a substantial financial and social cost. 

“A change in cannabis public policy could provide better education on drugs as well as social and fiscal benefits.”