Thousands of people took to the streets of Cape Town earlier this year to demand a relaxation of drugs laws to allow medicinal and recreational use of cannabis. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ANA
Thousands of people took to the streets of Cape Town earlier this year to demand a relaxation of drugs laws to allow medicinal and recreational use of cannabis. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ANA

New bill not all that dope, say activists

By Chelsea Geach Time of article published Aug 22, 2020

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CANNABIS could be the cash crop South Africa needs to lift us out of the lockdown economic crisis – but the new bill before Parliament blocks us from reaping the benefits.

Cannabis activists and legal experts say the bill may be a step forward for the recreational weed smoker, but it’s a big setback for the local small-scale cannabis economy.

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, which has been approved by Cabinet and must now be discussed by Parliament, before becoming law, proposes that an adult living alone can possess 600 grams of dried cannabis at home. Also allowed at home are unlimited seeds or seedlings and four flowering plants for a single adult.

If you live with another adult, possession amounts double to 1.2kg dried cannabis and eight flowering plants. In public, an adult can discreetly carry up to 100g of dried cannabis.

Cannabis activist and drug policy expert Quintin van Kerken said on the surface, the bill seems like a win for the cannabis community – but a closer look reveals the opposite.

“I think for the average stoner who’s just growing for themselves, lekker, it’s great,” he said.

Van Kerken praised the parts of the bill that allow for expunging of criminal records for people arrested on minor cannabis charges, and as well as the allowances for travelling with

cannabis, and regulations against driving while stoned. However, the restrictive amounts for personal use could be a clue to the next legislative move, and that could spell disaster.

“I can go buy 300 bottles of booze, drink myself into a stupor, but I can’t have five cannabis plants,” he said. “Why are they limiting it? They're preparing for a commercial industry.”

Van Kerken said setting up a fully licensed and international standards-compliant indoor growing facility costs upwards of R20 million.

Currently, they can only be licensed to grow cannabis for export – but this could change if the government seeks to profit from controlling a legal cannabis trade in the future.

“Very few people have access to that kind of money. Then what happens to the small-scale growers? The government wants to make sure they can suck every ounce of blood they can out of the industry, because it’s a cash cow,” he said. “The export market enriches only a few. To stimulate the economy, go full legalisation.”

Large-scale commercial growing and trade would make high quality cannabis easily and cheaply available, but price out and criminalise all small-scale and subsistence farmers.

“I feel like this bill and what's going to come is tantamount to rape of the cannabis plant,” he said. “It’s going to end up criminalising more people by the sheer strength of its idiocracy.”

Attorney Craig Harvey, who has represented multiple clients arrested for possession of small amounts of cannabis, said the bill still left too much open to police interpretation and possible manipulation.

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