Maverick Citizen

STATE OF THE PROVINCES: EASTERN CAPE

SA needs extensive legal reforms to make dagga a viable crop, say activists

SA needs extensive legal reforms to make dagga a viable crop, say activists
Dagga farming is one of the few forms of livelihood in poverty-stricken parts of the rural Eastern Cape. (Photo: Masixole Feni)

Premier Oscar Mabuyane appoints an advisory panel to guide the development of the Eastern Cape’s cannabis economy.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane on Thursday night during his State of the Province Address announced the appointment of an advisory panel to guide the development of the province’s cannabis economy – but long-term advocates for legalising dagga in South Africa said extensive legal reforms are needed first. 

This follows the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address that the regulatory framework will be streamlined to open up the cannabis economy in the country. 

Ras Gareth Prince, who has been fighting for more than two decades for South Africa to decriminalise dagga, said the country needs extensive legal reform and proper public consultation with farmers and communities who grow the plants as well as a law that allows people to procure dagga from legal sources. 

“Firstly, we want the President to talk about dagga. The plants that grow in the Transkei. He talks about hemp and medical cannabis. These are all plants that must be imported,” Prince said.  

Mabuyane said the cannabis industry (some farms have licences to grow medical cannabis) was one of the contributors to a growing agricultural sector in the province, which was one of the only well-performing economies in the struggling Eastern Cape. The province has unemployment figures that exceed 40% in most places. 

“We were not particularly impressed by the President’s speech. Our government officials do not have a clear understanding of what needs to be done to get this right. Hemp and medical cannabis industries are dependent on imported varieties, and at the same time our local variety dagga remains as the focus of criminality,” Prince said.  

“Our dagga can do exactly what hemp and medical cannabis can do. The dagga industry must be formalised into the legal economy of South Africa,” he said. 

Prince was the applicant in a court application first before the Western Cape High Court and then before the Constitutional Court that led to a ruling that it is not illegal for South African adults to use dagga in their own homes. 

Yet, he said, hundreds of people are still arrested for buying or selling dagga every month.  

“There must be a legal source of dagga,” he said. “The Constitutional Court failed to make provision for one. 

“The national conversation must move to working with dagga, towards using dagga for the production of food, building of houses, making books and paper. 

“There are thousands of jobs in the legal dagga industry. It is the best opportunity for the province to alleviate poverty. But now the President wants us to focus on hemp and medical cannabis instead.” 

He said consultations about a law that will regulate the legal use of dagga were done online and representations and consultations were only in English – excluding hundreds of farmers in the Eastern Cape who grow dagga. 

Ricky Stone, an attorney who has been at the forefront of fighting for the legalisation of dagga, said that even the bill currently before Parliament to regulate the legal use of dagga by private individuals does not allow for the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in the dagga naturally growing in the Eastern Cape. 

Tetrahydrocannabinol is the component in dagga that makes users high. 

Stone said unless South Africa gets a law that shifts away from THC limitations of between 0.2% or 0.3%, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Mpondoland dagga will have to be destroyed. 

“But if concessions are made, all these plants can be used for medicine and for industrial purposes,” he said. 

Prince said the arrests of people for the possession of, or suspected dealing in, small amounts of dagga continue throughout the province, with the legal definition of the amount of dagga that will trigger a charge of dealing in dagga still too high.  

He said this has highlighted the disconnect between the legislature, the executive arm of government and the courts, as no amendments were made after the Constitutional Court ruling. 

“We do not have the time or the money to fight every arrest. The politicians are ineffective and not doing their jobs but we are the ones who get arrested and put in prison,” he said.  

Stone said they have had a few meetings with the President’s advisers since the State of the Nation Address. But he cautioned that the bill that regulates the legal use of dagga that is currently before Parliament should not see the light of day.  

“We need a single law and a single authority,” Stone said, adding that the regulation of the cannabis industry cannot be left to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority. “They do not award licences for a single other raw product when it comes to medicine.” 

Stone said Mabuyane had done remarkable things to get the cannabis economy started and had developed a legal framework to establish this. 

“He has clearly done a lot more than anyone before,” Stone said. He stressed that legal reform at national level is what is needed. 

He added that it was important for the government to start viewing dagga as an agricultural crop.  

Prince also said he hoped the legislative bottlenecks would be removed. 

A Cannabis Master Plan, published by the Department of Justice and Correctional Services in August 2021, highlighted the need for new policy and legislation to provide for the commercialisation of cannabis.  

The plan said there is currently major confusion about issuing permits for the growing of hemp as well as the need to include current dagga growers and traders into the proposed industry. 

According to a policy discussion document issued by the Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council, dagga remains the main cash crop in Mpondoland (the former Transkei), which is famous for an indigenous type of dagga known as Mpondo Gold.  

This document proposes that the Medicines and Related Substances Act, the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act and the Traditional Health Practitioners Act should be updated and the draft Cannabis Regulation Bill should decriminalise and legalise the use of cannabis and all products in the cannabis value chain.  

The document suggests that no attempt should be made to regulate informal or traditional growers, informal traders and the use of cannabis by traditional health practitioners, but regulations should be introduced to protect small and informal operators and investment in the Wild Coast and other districts that are part of the province’s “Dagga Belt”. DM/MC

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  • Peter Worman says:

    I have long expressed the view that the easy solution to the poverty in the EC (and other provinces in SA) is for small households to be allowed to grow dagga (which needs no pesticides or fertilizers) and to sell their crops to co-ops at a fair, predetermined price. Co-ops could send out trucks, equipped with scales to collect the harvested crops and using mobile technology, could transfer the proceeds per mobile phone to the growers. As dagga can be used as a feedstock for many applications this would enable traders to sell to paper mills, spinning mills and numerous other industries. The immediate problem are the forestry plantation owners who have invested billions in growing non-indigenous trees that suck up billions of litres of underground water, compared to dagga, that has a higher fibre content and has no adverse effects on the environment.
    Unfortunately I foresee that big business will take over and the poor will remain poor

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