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Dismay over contradictions about legality in Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill

The Southern Africa Agricultural Initiative has voiced its opposition to elements of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

The Southern Africa Agricultural Initiative has voiced its opposition to elements of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 24, 2022


Pretoria - The Southern Africa Agricultural Initiative (Saai), an organisation that protects the rights and interests of family farmers, has voiced its opposition to elements of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill.

It said it promoted a legalised and carefully regulated cannabis industry that boosted economic growth while curbing harm.

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In September 2018, the Constitutional Court made room for Parliament to rectify “constitutional defects” in 24 months, but 44 months later that still has not been done.

The bill makes matters even worse by criminalising practically all commercial activities and at the same time “authorising” general “commercial activities” related to cannabis. This contradiction creates confusion that undermines the rule of law, according to the organisation.

While the recreational use, consumption, and cultivation of cannabis by adults in private have been legalised under the right to privacy, practically all private cannabis trade is prohibited by the Cannabis Bill. The organisation said this was irrational.

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

In addition, the organisation said the bill would extend the current regime’s incentives to abuse cannabis regularly in high quantities rather than permitting simple purchases.

The Constitutional Court highlighted medical evidence that showed it was safe for adults to smoke “one joint of dagga” occasionally but dangerous to do so heavily and regularly.

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Still, the 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. This was as irrational as the law would be to allow alcohol consumption, but only if individuals brew their own “mampoer” in 100-litre barrels, the organisation said.

The organisation is of the opinion that the 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 licences and for businesses to circumvent the acquisition of licences,” it said.

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According to the organisation, to avoid this, the bill must be amended to allow legal trade without delay. “Officials should be kept at arm’s length, and laboratories should be independently used by growers to test products against toxicity.”

It also reasoned that a major benefit of straightforward legislation is that resources currently wasted on policing adults who buy “one joint of dagga” can be diverted to stopping cannabis from getting into the hands of minors and other serious crimes.

“With over 12 million jobless adults, the South African unemployment line could stretch from Cape Town to Cairo. Unemployment is especially problematic in rural areas. The government’s promise of 130 000 legitimate jobs in the local cannabis industry is probably overestimated.

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“If the bill is amended as we suggest, tens of thousands of jobs can realistically develop, especially at the family-business level and among traditional growers. Job growth must be a priority,” said Francois Rossouw, CEO of the organisation.

According to him, 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. The law must allow farmers to combine soil, seed, sunshine, and labour into a product that some adults enjoy privately and responsibly.

“ Saai aims to achieve that rapidly”, he said.

Pretoria News