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Operation Phakisa : Progress and Challenges in South Africa's Cannabis Legalization Journey

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

The South African Police Service (SAPS) legal department is currently drafting new standing orders to bring cannabis growers and dealers to court without incarcerating them. This development follows an agreement reached at the Operation Phakisa event convened by the presidency. However, concerns have been raised about the police's failure to implement the moratorium on cannabis arrests, which was set for June 30th. This article explores the progress made in South Africa's cannabis legalization journey, the agreements reached at Operation Phakisa, and the challenges that still need to be addressed.

A Promising Step Towards Reform:

Operation Phakisa, an initiative launched by the South African government in 2014, aims to accelerate the implementation of solutions for critical development issues. Last month's meeting brought together various stakeholders, including government representatives, the cannabis industry, the Rastafarian community, and organized labor. One of the key outcomes of the event was an agreement to respect the privacy rights of cannabis cultivators and users, and to use the least intrusive measures in securing court attendance for accused individuals.

Drafting New Standing Orders:

The SAPS legal department is actively working on developing new standing orders that will enable the court process for cannabis growers and dealers without resorting to incarceration. These standing orders seek to strike a balance between law enforcement and the need for non-punitive measures while a regulatory framework for a recreational cannabis industry is being finalized. The aim is to ensure that the constitutional rights of cultivators, users, and dealers are respected throughout the process.

Concerns and Challenges:

Despite the agreement for a moratorium on arrests, there have been reports of ongoing arrests for cannabis-related offenses. Industry circles have expressed concerns about the police's commitment to implementing the agreements secured at Operation Phakisa. These concerns highlight the need for accountability and timely action to build trust between stakeholders and ensure the successful implementation of cannabis legalization reforms.

Moving Forward: Regulatory Reform and Economic Opportunities:

Operation Phakisa also paved the way for regulatory reform and economic opportunities within the cannabis sector. The meeting discussed reviewing the schedules of the Medicines Act to focus on medicinal cannabis, while other departments oversee cannabis cultivation for industrial purposes. The participants agreed on a science-based and human rights approach to legalizing adult-use cannabis and emphasized the inclusion of traditional cannabis farmers in creating a regulated market. The goal is to encourage the transition of existing participants from the illicit to the licit cannabis economy.

Challenges and the Role of Activists:

While progress has been made, challenges persist in South Africa's cannabis legalization journey. The slow progress in drafting legislation and the continued arrests by the police have raised concerns among activists. In the face of delays and slow progress, activists such as Myrtle Clarke and organizations like Field of Green For All continue to play a pivotal role. Their advocacy efforts are instrumental in holding the government accountable and ensuring the agreed-upon resolutions are translated into tangible actions. The involvement of activists remains essential for pushing forward the cannabis legalization agenda and safeguarding the rights of marginalized communities.


South Africa's cannabis legalization journey has witnessed significant developments, including the drafting of new standing orders by the SAPS legal department. The agreements reached at Operation Phakisa offer hope for regulatory reform and the creation of economic opportunities in the cannabis sector. However, challenges remain, and concerns about the implementation of these agreements persist. It is essential for stakeholders, including government representatives, industry players, and activists, to work together to overcome these challenges and pave the way for a well-regulated and inclusive cannabis industry in South Africa.


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