OPEN LETTER

Cannabis legalisation: An open letter to the ConCourt

By Daily Maverick Reader 30 August 2018

Marijuana plants grow at MedReleaf in Markham, Canada, 21 June 2018. MedReleaf is a licensed Canadian producer of cannabis for medicinal use. EPA-EFE/WARREN TODA

If handled with sensitivity and care, the legalisation of cannabis in South Africa has the potential to empower and uplift millions of our people. Dependent on the source, we are either the second- or third-largest producers of the crop in the world. But outdated legislation and a brutal police force currently ensures that we remain behind countries like Canada, the US, Spain, Uruguay, Malawi and Lesotho when it comes to harnessing the potential of this miracle plant. By the undersigned organisations.

Dear esteemed Justices of the Constitutional Court of South Africa,

We understand you taking your time to deliberate over this important judgment that affects the lives of so many South Africans and we are deeply appreciative of your considerations. We would, however, like to bring to your attention some recent developments regarding the status of the cannabis plant in South Africa and worldwide. Since Judge Dennis Davis of the Western Cape High Court handed down his judgment on 31 March 2017, a judgment which ruled that the current law is unconstitutional, the following has happened:

Arrests & incarcerations at huge cost to individuals and state

  • As many as 182,624 South Africans have been arrested for cannabis possession, cultivation and trade since 31 March 2017. The vast majority of these cases fall under the “personal use” category covered by the judgment.
  • Every cannabis “offence” carries an enormous cost to the state, taking up space in holding cells, occupying valuable policing time that could be focused instead on serious crime or feeding, clothing and housing convicted inmates and awaiting-trial prisoners, and clogging up the criminal justice system.
  • Despite the best efforts of those who offer legal help to those arrested and the specific instruction within the Davis judgment that charges should be stayed, only 90 stays in prosecution for cannabis charges have been granted throughout South Africa since 2011. There is no consistency in the courts with most officials being ignorant of the ongoing constitutional matter.
  • Cannabis accused are still being incarcerated on a huge scale. Each and every cannabis arrest results in mandatory incarceration and even one night in a police holding cell is enough to traumatise these non-violent citizens whose crime has no victim.
  • Harsh sentences are being handed down by magistrates. Just last week Mr Rudolph van Rooyen was sentenced in the Grahamstown Magistrate’s Court to five years’ in prison. He has begun serving his sentence at Grahamstown Correctional Services with prisoner number 218584178. He is a breadwinner with a young family.
  • Indigenous and Rastafarian communities are still being targeted by the police. Violence and police brutality are rife, and it is impossible to bring charges against the perpetrators due to widespread corruption, intimidation and lack of administrative capacity on the part of the relevant authorities.

Regional & international developments

  • Uruguay, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Australia, Spain, Morocco, various EU states and various states in the US have changed the laws, making cannabis available on various levels.
  • Between US$50-million and $100-million has been directed to Lesotho as that country begins to look into a viable cannabis industry.
  • Zimbabwe has declared it is considering issuing cannabis licences.
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo has allowed research.
  • Malawi’s cannabis industry is showing great promise, and the government has demonstrated the capacity to incorporate cannabis into its formal economy.
  • South Africa has seen a cannabis expertise “brain drain”, with many growers and processors leaving to work in Lesotho, Malawi, Spain, Canada and the US – all countries where they can practise their craft without threat of prosecution.

Medical cannabis in South Africa

  • The Medicines Control Council (now renamed the South African Health Practitioners Regulatory Authority) has not made medicines containing cannabis available after taking the Medical Innovation Bill off the table.
  • The regulatory authority has made it harder to get cannabis products by scheduling cannabidiol, which was previously unscheduled.
  • The regulatory authority has not yet licenced any cannabis cultivators or manufacturers.
  • Unwell South Africans are still forced to buy unregulated cannabis products from the black market, even if needed for medical emergencies.

Industrial cannabis, hemp & global research

  • Industrial hemp is still illegal to grow in South Africa.
  • Hemp products are still supposed to be marked “not for human consumption”, placing hemp nutrition products on the wrong side of the law.
  • More scientific studies are recognising the medical benefits of cannabis every day.
  • The World Health Organisation has released a review of cannabis declaring that cannabidiol should not be scheduled, and that cannabis needs to be reassessed under the 1961 single convention.
  • South Africa falls further behind the rest of the world as regards the opportunities for jobs, housing, food, medicine, rural development and sustainability that this plant can bring.

What can cannabis do for South Africa?

The number of unemployed people in South Africa in 2018 was an estimated 6.17 million:

  • Housing: Cannabis can assist with a more efficient and environment-friendly housing solution for South Africa. Hemp housing projects have been proven globally as a greener and more effective housing solution than cement construction. The implementation of RDP housing using cannabis could create substantially more jobs than the current RDP housing rollout, as rural farmers could grow the hemp biomass used in the construction process.
  • Healthcare: Every day more evidence surfaces regarding the medical properties of cannabis. The discovery of the endocannabinoid system has been described as the most significant medical discovery of the 21st Century. Why is this important? Because South Africa is positioned in one of the most ideal locations in the world for the growing of medical cannabis. The investment potential in this sector is worth billions, and could create tens of thousands of local jobs.
  • Food: The seed from the cannabis plant is non-psychoactive and has one of the most balanced fatty acid profiles of all the plant seeds on earth. The seed shell has a plant-based protein that is a by-product of hemp oil production. Hemp could therefore assist in bringing real nutrition to the people of South Africa. The production of hemp could be directed to farmers, which in turn could create more rural jobs and SMME farmers than any other agricultural sector in the country.
  • Biomass: Hemp biomass refers to the amount of the plant material that can be converted to fuel, usually by gasification. Biomass is biologically produced material, like methanol, which can be converted into virtually any type of energy. Cannabis is one of the world’s fastest-growing biomass crops. World production of biomass has been estimated at 146 billion tons a year, and hemp biomass production could go a long way to easing the unemployment crisis in South Africa.
  • Paper: Cannabis can be harvested in three to six months, as compared to 30 or more years for trees. It can produce more than double the fibre of wood chippings, and requires no dangerous chemicals in the paper pulping processes. Hemp paper will outlive even the best quality wood pulp paper or papyrus paper. South Africa has millions of available hectares, which can be used for paper production for local and export markets. Rural farmers could be trained and deployed to grow the crop, creating thousands of SMME farmers and thousands of jobs in the paper sector in South Africa.
  • Textiles: Clothes made from hemp are more durable, yet softer than those made from cotton, a plant which requires pesticide and fertiliser. Hemp requires no pesticides and very little fertiliser. Job opportunities in farming and agro processing, as well as in the manufacturing of clothing, could be in the thousands in this sector in South Africa.

The South African National Development Plan aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. According to the plan, South Africa can realise these goals by drawing on the energies of its people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society.

The efficient and inclusive regulation of cannabis can radically assist in the achievement of this goal, as demonstrated by the rising figures in global revenue and employment.

We therefore respectfully entreat you, as esteemed justices of the highest court in the land, to assist with the repeal of our current cannabis laws, so as to enable South Africa to start afresh with regulations based on science, rationality and modern knowledge — for the empowerment and upliftment of all our people. DM

This open letter is endorsed by the following organisations:

  • Fields of Green for ALL
  • The Dagga Couple
  • Join The Queue Dagga Arrest Helpline
  • The Green Network
  • The Dagga Party
  • Cannabis Development Council of SA
  • National Cannabis Union
  • Traditional & Natural Health Alliance
  • Traditional Healers Association
  • Hemporium
  • Cannabis Industry Development Co-operative of the Western Cape
  • Hemphub
  • Bobby Greenhash Foundation
  • The High Co
  • FGA Affiliates / International Affiliates
  • Cannabis Development Council of the Eastern Cape
  • Zubenathi Trust
  • The Green Connexion
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