Maverick Citizen

Eastern Cape

SOPA: Premier has high hopes for major economic boost from cannabis

"Our position as the Eastern Cape government is for an inclusive legislative process which must protect the indigenous growers of cannabis."

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, in his State of the Province Address (SOPA) on Tuesday, pinned some of his hopes for the Eastern Cape’s struggling economy on the legalisation of the cannabis industry 

Mabuyane announced that he had instructed the two special economic zones, in Nelson Mandela Bay and East London, to “aggressively attract” investors for cannabis production in the province.

He said the establishment of the Wild Coast special economic zone was progressing well and that the provincial government’s intention was to “use it to unlock the entire agriculture value chain in the eastern side of our province”. 

“The emerging cannabis economy offers boundless opportunities for the revival of our economy through the development of cannabis for industrial and medicinal use. Our position as the Eastern Cape government is for an inclusive legislative process which must protect the indigenous growers of cannabis.

“We are engaging national departments and authorities for the issuing of hemp permits and cannabis licences to farmers and investors in the Eastern Cape.”

He explained that his instruction to the special economic zones was premised on the province’s that the current legislative regime “permits cannabis production in a controlled climate”.

His 2020 speech continues from his SOPA in June last year after he had been appointed as premier

At the time he stressed that the province had been “endowed with a crop that can be ploughed and processed to make medicinal products and create jobs for our people.

“We want to ensure that the production of cannabis is characterised by deepened social facilitation with our traditional leaders, communities, current producers and business people,” he said at the time.

Subsequently, the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform announced plans to open a cannabis university in Lusikisiki.

Mabuyane’s sentiments echo those of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni who has been taking to Twitter to campaign for dagga to be fully legalised. In one of his tweets, he said he believed that R4-billion in tax revenue can be unlocked by doing this.

Wandile Sihlobo, the chief economist for the Agricultural Business Chamber, said while he noted the sentiments of the premier there must be alignment with national legislation.

“Cannabis must first be moved from being a drug to being an agricultural crop,” he said. 

“There is room for this country to talk about licensing. A grower’s licence in Zimbabwe costs R700,000 – there is room for us to make this country competitive.

“The regulatory work must be done faster,” he said.

He said the value-chain created by the cannabis-growing industry could create many jobs in the Eastern Cape.

“The organisation New Frontier is estimating the cannabis growing industry in South Africa (without this value chain) to be worth about $1.2-billion.

“We need to be clear on this,” Sihlobo said. “There is a danger in politicians talking about this. There must be a lot of emphasis on research and regulations on what must be grown where. At the moment the reigning sentiment just seems that people are happy that it will be deregulated. 

“We need communication and coherence and we are not paying enough attention to that.”

Cape St Francis-based entrepreneur and owner of Black Cat Organic Health Products, Michelle Petrelis, said she believed legalising cannabis will unlock great value – not only for the economy but also by improving people’s health.

She manufactures products using CBD oil. 

“We use a strain of cannabis called Transkei Gold, also known as TK… it is rated as one of the best in the world.” 

She said she believes Mabuyane is absolutely right. 

“We managed to become one of the biggest producers of cannabis in the world – and we had to do it undercover. Can you imagine what our potential will be if we can grow it openly? she said. 

“Farmers in Pondoland have been doing this for centuries. The plants need nothing but sunshine and a bit of cow dung. It grows best outdoors.”

She said there was huge potential for a public/private partnership in this industry.

“Just in my own small business I now have close to 80 agents, all women who were stay-at-home moms, who are selling my products.

“About two years ago I came out in the open about the medicine we have been making. It is ridiculous to make medicine in shame. People are just struggling to get their brains past the notion that cannabis is only a drug,” she said. 

“Let us work with the plant. We have everything we need for this to take off.” DM/MC


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