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South Africa Takes Significant Steps Towards Cannabis Policy Reform

Updated: Aug 11, 2023



South Africa is making notable progress in its commitment to reform its cannabis laws and unlock the potential of the cannabis economy. A recent Phakisa Action Lab, convened by the Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the Presidency, brought together various stakeholders to establish policy coherence and drive urgent implementation. The outcomes of the lab signal a positive shift towards regulatory reforms, investment support, and the eventual legalization of non-medicinal cannabis. Let's delve into the key highlights of this groundbreaking event.


Policy Coherence and Collaboration:

The Cannabis Phakisa Action Lab, held from 19 to 23 June 2023, witnessed the participation of over 100 representatives from national and provincial government, business, labor, communities, traditional and Rastafari leaders, scientists, legal experts, and other stakeholders. The primary objective was to achieve agreement on policy changes and develop a comprehensive plan of well-defined activities across multiple government departments.


Regulatory Reforms and Hemp Sector Development:

Participants reached a consensus on the regulatory reforms necessary to unlock the potential of the hemp and cannabis sector. These reforms aim to enable cannabis usage in African traditional medicine, pharmaceuticals, complementary medicines, industrial applications, and more. As part of the reforms, the schedules to the Medicines Act will be reviewed, allowing cannabis cultivation for non-medicinal purposes, including industrial uses. This shift will empower the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to focus on medicinal cannabis while other government departments regulate cannabis grown for industrial purposes.


Removing Cannabis from the Drugs Act:

One of the significant milestones achieved during the Phakisa was the decision to fast-track the removal of cannabis from the Drugs Act. This historic move will legalize the cultivation of non-medicinal cannabis under the terms and conditions of the Plant Improvement Act, falling under the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). The removal of this legal hurdle will pave the way for the development of a thriving cannabis economy.


Improving Police Practices and Ensuring Rights:

The Phakisa acknowledged the need for new directives to be issued to the South African Police Services (SAPS) regarding cannabis-related arrests. Community stakeholders highlighted the absence of SAPS representatives, leading to an important discussion. Brigadier van Graan from SAPS admitted the non-adherence to previous directives and agreed that arrests were becoming excessive. To address this issue, a new directive will be issued, with a deadline set for the end of June 2023. The focus will be on reinforcing constitutional rights and holding officers accountable for treating potential suspects in a constitutional manner.


Amendments to Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill:

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, which has faced criticism for its constitutionality, will be sent back to the drawing board. The aim is to align the bill with the Constitutional Court's 2018 order, removing elements such as the Hemp and Traditional Use clauses. The plant-counting nature of the bill is also under scrutiny, with potential revisions on the horizon.


Optimizing Investment and Financing:

The Phakisa identified the importance of supporting private sector investment in the cannabis industry. To achieve this, existing catalytic projects will be scaled up, financing frameworks will be optimized to support Black farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and pragmatic interventions will be implemented to promote investment, exports, and standards.





Conclusion:

South Africa's Cannabis Phakisa Action Lab has paved the way for significant progress in cannabis policy reform. The agreement reached on regulatory reforms, removing cannabis from the Drugs Act, improving police practices, amending the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, and optimizing investment sets the stage for a comprehensive and inclusive approach to cannabis legalization. With stakeholders and government departments demonstrating eagerness and collaboration, South Africa is on a promising path toward a sensible and evidence-based cannabis policy that will drive economic growth and benefit communities across the country.



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