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By Narissa Subramoney

Deputy digital news editor

You can’t legalise cannabis for private use and criminalise selling it, says farming group

The Southern Africa Agricultural Initiative rejects Cannabis Bill in its current form, calls government out for criminalising sales.

Alarming unemployment and rapidly rising food and fuel prices have Cannabis Bill supporters on tenterhooks.

Four years ago, when the Constitutional Court decriminalised the use and cultivation of dagga in a private space, the court also provided Parliament a 24-month period in which they could amend the relevant laws.

Decriminalising the private adult use of dagga signalled the beginning of a new industry that could bring the ailing South African economy to new highs, but four years later, government doesn’t seem to care.

The Southern Africa Agricultural Initiative (SAAI) has opposed some of the elements in the Cannabis Bill.

The organisation, which describes itself as a group that protects the rights and interests of family farmers, have highlighted the same elements that critics have argued stifle profitability in the sector, particularly that of rural farmers.

‘If the public is allowed to eat pork, the farmer must be allowed to sell bacon’

SAAI CEO Francois Rossouw said the organisation promotes a legalised and carefully regulated cannabis industry that boosts economic growth while curbing harm.

“The Cannabis Bill makes matters even worse by criminalising practically all commercial activities and at the same time “authorising” general “commercial activities” related to cannabis, explained Rossouw.

While the recreational use, consumption, and cultivation of cannabis by adults in private have been legalised, practically all private cannabis trade is prohibited by the Bill.

“If the public is allowed to eat pork, the farmer must be allowed to sell bacon,” he added.

SAAI argues the Cannabis Bill in its current form is not practical for private use because people are currently allowed to grow the plant, which produces larger than necessary quantities at a time.

“The Cannabis Bill practically forces someone who would like to smoke one joint of dagga a month to grow an entire plant that could produce 500 joints of dagga every harvest,” said Rossouw.

“This is as irrational as the law would be to allow alcohol consumption, but only if individuals brew their own mampoer in 100-liter barrels.”

Rossouw said the ‘absurd and contradictory regulations’ must be understood in the context of South Africans’ twin troubles – unemployment and corruption.

  • The more contradictory the law, the more discretionary powers are given to officials
  • The more slow-footed the progression to simple legislation, the more opportunity there is for government employees to extort businesses for licenses and for businesses to circumvent the acquisition of licences.

‘Stop wasting police resources on dagga-sales’

SAAI is calling for the Cannabis Bill to be amended to allow legal trade without delay.

They’re also asking government officials to steer clear of the process, arguing that laboratories should be independently used by growers to test products against toxicity.

The organisation pointed out that a large amount of South African Police Service’s depleted resources are currently wasted on policing adults that buy “one joint of dagga”.

“This can be diverted to stopping cannabis from getting into the hands of minors and other serious crimes,” said Rossouw.

The cannabis economy can put a dent in unemployment

South Africa’s unemployment rate climbed to 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021, up from 34.9% in the previous period.

 The expanded definition of unemployment, including people who have stopped looking for work, was at 46.2%, down slightly from 46.6% in the third quarter.

While the youth unemployment rate, measuring job-seekers between 15 and 24 years old, remained unchanged at a record high of 66.5%.

There have been high hopes for government’s assertion that the lucrative herb would create 130,000 legitimate jobs.

SAAI said this number is probably overestimated, but, if the Cannabis Bill is amended, tens of thousands of jobs can realistically develop, especially at the family-business level and among traditional growers.

“Job growth must be a priority. Cannabis, like tobacco and alcohol, is not for everyone. But once consumption has been decriminalised, the next step has to be making the market work,” emphasised Rossouw.

“The law must allow farmers to combine soil, seed, sunshine, and labour into a product that some adults enjoy privately and responsibly,” he concluded.

NOW READ: More than puff and pass: SA’s cannabis industry could be worth billions

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