New Fica chairperson determined to get proper regulations for the cannabis industry
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Johannesburg - Sinenhlanhla Mnguni is one of those people who makes multi-tasking look easy.
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic forced everyone to juggle responsibilities, the attorney did it voluntarily – at an impressive pace.
Aside from being an admitted attorney and owning his own law firm, Mnguni is also the face of the local tobacco industry as chairperson of the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association.
If that doesn’t keep him busy enough, the 34-year-old also competed for South Africa in bodybuilding, which took years of dedication and commitment.
So, where does Mnguni find the time to juggle all his responsibilities?
“I think we all have certain things that drive us, and I, personally, enjoy and find stimulation in challenges,” says Mnguni.
“It obviously takes a lot of discipline to balance all these different functions, but I personally derive a lot of satisfaction from being able to effect some form of change through all my various roles.”
He says his siblings bring out the best in his competitive nature, which pushes him to take on new challenges.
“I grew up with two brothers, so there has always been a competitive element in me. My parents both have an academic background. I have always had the mindset of demanding more from myself and knowing that I have the capabilities to achieve more.”
Bodybuilding, too, he says, has helped him push on in other departments of his life.
“I was involved in competitive bodybuilding until recently, and I feel the sport really helped me from a discipline and dedication point of view, and that is something I have utilised in other aspects of my life.”
Despite his several responsibilities, Mnguni has eagerly taken on another massive responsibility.
In July this year, he officially stepped into his new role as chairperson of South Africa’s biggest association of cannabis cultivation license holders, The Fair-trade Independent Cannabis Association (Fica).
The organisation, a voluntary non-profit association for South African cannabis industry stakeholders, was officially launched to the public yesterday.
The launch comes as The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority this week certified the first local company in the cannabis industry.
Cilo Cybin Pharmaceutical, based in Centurion, will now be able to grow, process and package cannabis products.
Fica currently has eight licensed cannabis cultivators as members of their organisation, making it the biggest association of cannabis cultivation license holders in South Africa.
Speaking of the newly founded organisation, Mnguni said Fica was conceptualised as the cannabis industry continues to grow.
“Our founding members are of the view that the various organisations, activists, academics and businesses involved in the local cannabis industry, working in conjunction with the relevant state institutions, have the potential to reinvigorate and transform the South African economy through cannabis.
“Our goal is to push for responsible regulation of the local cannabis industry, which benefits all stakeholders. Membership at Fica means being represented alongside other reputable and responsible industry leaders who are committed to bringing about a legitimate, well-regulated and professional cannabis industry and which serves as a driver of economic transformation and growth.”
Mnguni says the organisation’s founding members are currently hard at work identifying members who they feel will be of great benefit to the association.
“We have also been working on building coalition partners within the wider cannabis industry scope, inclusive of academics, medical organisations, law enforcement, state institutions, and other industry advocacy groups. This will enable us to create an association focused on driving responsible policy and regulations by government.
“We hope that with time, in addition to shaping the legal and regulatory framework for South Africa’s emerging cannabis industry, Fica membership will provide members with a platform to promote their businesses.”
Fica was conceptualised in May of 2021.
“The organisation intends working with all state regulatory bodies to ensure the development of sound policies to promote transformation, business efficiency, innovation and consumer safety, thereby ensuring a sustainable supply chain and thriving community.
“We currently represent a substantial portion of the Sahpra licensed cannabis cultivators in their quest for the advancement of legislation and industry collaboration.”
Mnguni says he was approached to head up this new body by a number of cannabis industry role players on behalf of the industry in a push towards complete legalisation and responsible regulation of the industry.
“Given my other commitments at the time, I was initially hesitant, but once I familiarised myself with the industry and the tasks at hand, I saw the role at Fica as an interesting challenge worth tackling, given the potential of the industry and what its unlocking could do for our economy and our people.”
He believes that the cannabis industry will play a huge role in transforming South Africa’s economy.
“Through enabling laws, our government can open the door for a new and promising industry which will bring with it billions of dollars from foreign investors while also generating revenue through the local players.
“The unlocking of the industry will also go a long way towards reducing our unjustifiably high unemployment rate, while transforming and stimulating our economy.”
He says the organisation is also working hard to change the misconceptions around cannabis.
“There is much more information available publicly now on cannabis in comparison to the past when it was seen merely as a drug and associated with many negative things.”
“This is something that one has to take into consideration in a conservative country such as ours when engaging with key stakeholders such as government. Thankfully, the narrative is slowly changing, and through our association, we hope to further drive that change.
“The commercial benefits of cannabis alone are many, and a properly regulated cannabis industry could do wonders for our economy and our people.”
Cannabis is also very versatile, says Mnguni and can be used for a wide range of things.
“Beyond the known recreational use of cannabis, cannabis has been utilised for pain management, treatment of anxiety and insomnia, glaucoma, and there have been many cancer patients who have utilised it in their treatment.
“There are also the many industrial benefits of hemp which alone could create a whole industry.”
Mnguni believes legislation is holding back the industry from booming in the country.
There are around 30 licensed cannabis cultivators in South Africa. However, many are still awaiting approval of their license applications, says Mnguni.
“Legislation still presents many challenges for these cultivators. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development recently released a Draft Cannabis Master Plan, which it is of the view will turn cannabis into a viable business sector for the country.
“Included in the master plan’s list of priorities is the signing of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill into law within the 2022/2023 financial year. In September 2020, government published the draft Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill for public comment. The new draft bill outlines possession rules for cannabis users at home as well as for people who wish to cultivate the plant.
“It also introduces new offences, as well as provisions for people who previously received a criminal record for cannabis possession. While further clarity around cannabis has largely been welcomed in South Africa, the draft bill, in our view, poses a number of challenges and was arrived at without extensive consultation with various cannabis industry stakeholders.
“Many industry role players are of the view that the bill has seemingly adopted a ‘narrow and traditionalist perspective’ which, as currently constructed, does not give an inch more than was mandated by the Constitutional Court. For instance, the bill does not address most commercial aspects and opportunities created by cannabis.”
Mnguni says it is crucial that government get on board and move swiftly to properly regulate the cannabis industry.
“It is very crucial for the growth and development of the industry and its players that government moves at a pace similar to other countries in as far as regulation of the industry is concerned.
“Countries such as Lesotho are currently more progressive in terms of cannabis regulation than South Africa and are slowly starting to see the benefits of this. I think it would be foolish of government to overlook cannabis, given its potential and what it has done for economies in other countries, as a future driver of change in this country.”