For thousands of years, humanity has been fighting a cannabis war against ourselves. Some of us enlisted while others were drafted, but in one way or another, we have all participated. Today, we see trails of red dirt, mere traces of bloody rapids that once raged throughout the planet, stolen from beneath the skin of our ancestors. 

As we have decided, it is time to end the violence by joining in continental-spanning unity, elevating the earth closer to the coordinates of divine peace with linear trends in legalization. With a recent decision from the United Nations to remove medical marijuana from the federal list of dangerous substances, many of us mistake the settling haze for the dusk of the cannabis revolution. 

On the day of liberation, it is but only dawn: The birth of a new era in this long-fought timeline. However, it is one full of opportunity, reparations, and reconciliation – as long as we are thoughtful, considerate, and cautious of our approach.

Cannabis In South Africa

Thus, we turn to South Africa today in a panel presented by Global Go and ACA Compliance Group: A nation at dawn; hosted by Paul Rosen, Chairperson of Global Gp.  In 2018, the South African Constitutional Court decriminalized personal consumption and cultivation of dagga, or cannabis, in the context of a “private” space. Selling to a local or national market remains illegal. 

The temperate and sunny South African climate, combined with its geographical positioning that receives an ideal amount of UV light, has propelled the cultivation of cannabis so much so that it is widely recognized as a “traditional” crop. 

According to the data collected in a South African Cannabis Survey by Thobile Disemelo, a researcher at Social Surveys Africa, 71 percent of participants claimed to grow their own cannabis. 

“There is a great potential for tax revenue in South Africa,” said Disemelo, the 71 percent demonstrate, “ a direct correlation between the socio-economic status of the respondents and the number of plants that they grow.” 

While being able to farm cannabis outside in South Africa (83% of respondents) may be inexpensive and straightforward comparatively to North America, unsurprisingly, it all comes down to who has access to resources like land or knowledge on how to grow, and who doesn’t. One in five growers from the survey responded that they earn over a quarter of their income from the cultivation of cannabis. 

“If every grower [who answered the survey] employed about three people, [that] account[s] for 4,351 jobs.” Disemelo said, “ If cannabis was fully legalized, the number of jobs it would create is actually – it’s immeasurable. We’ve come up to 44,950 just based on the 2,043 [individuals surveyed]… if we are able to run a study that is looking at the nation as a whole, we are going to find much [greater] figures than this.”

Dagga Laws

In Aug. of 2020, the South Africa Cabinet advanced the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill 2020 to Parliament in an effort to nudge toward full-legalization. 

However, the bill proposes regulatory aspects that could continue to harm rather than encourage national growers and consumers. 

“The majority of people who want to use [cannabis] are unable to, which is what we are finding at the moment with the cannabis bill, that seems to be very racist in nature and very classist in that it leaves out a lot of people.” Said Disemelo. 

According to Disemelo, the bill has strict limitations on how many plants can be grown, which will result in a plethora of legal confusion and abuse of power. 

“There’s strong resistance from the sample that we drew to this limiting of plants…The biggest worry against our sample is that police would be invading their privacy on a regular basis just to count plants, and this goes directly against the whole point of private use.” Disemelo explained. 

Additionally, national regulators have little understanding of the amount of cannabis a regular cannabis consumer may need. 

“Regulators don’t understand that different strains that can be different in size as well, and that they wouldn’t even know the difference between a CBD strain and a THC strain. There’s just going to be a lot of legal confusion… [that] will cause a lot of police intimidation and harassment – much more than there has ever been before.” Said Disemelo.

From the survey, Disemelo reported that 15 percent (305 individuals) had been arrested, the majority (86 percent) of those arrested indicated that they only grew for personal use. On average most of them had been arrested twice.

“[Most] who had been arrested… had suffered some form of police brutality, corruption or theft of their possessions,” Disemelo said.

The effects that followed resulted in five percent losing their jobs, eight percent have been declined VISAs and unable to travel to certain parts of the world, 24 percent have been disqualified from certain future job opportunities, and 64 percent experienced emotional distress.

Cannabis Education

Despite an abundance of room for success within a culture, society, and economy that already centralizes its way of life around the cannabis plant, the steps taken now could perhaps be the most critical in how the future of the nation unfolds. 

“The cannabis subject in these spaces is a very sensitive one when we are talking about development of an industry.” Expressed Philasande Mahlakata, Project Coordinator, Umzimvubu Farmer’s Support Network: “You would think that maybe, there would be some thought going into the history of what people have been through, [or] the experiences that the rural people have been through trying to make a living with cannabis and being prohibited from either cultivating, posing, or using.” 

Mahlakata expressed that she and the organization noticed the turbulence in communities caused by South African Police that abused the “forced fumigation program” in Bobo Valley.

These same communities are deprived of the critical education needed to maintain a successful local cannabis industry.

“These are the communities that are still pretty much clueless about the scope of the industry and what it could look like in the future. Many rural farmers are still scared and skeptical of the plant being decriminalized…” Said Mahlakata.

Tony Budden, Founder of Hemporium and Strategic and Government Relations Director of Highlands Investments, contributed: “Just understanding the difference between horticulture and agriculture, a lot of people understand this plant [as] one plant by one plant… but [actually] you’re looking at the field as an ecosystem, and just understanding that [requires] very, very different levels of skills that are needed to run an agricultural operation [and] small-scale medical or recreational growth.”

As legislation inches closer, locals who have farmed the plant for generations are being imposed with outlandish, unrealistic expectations of regulation such as purchasing licenses and controlling the levels of THC in a plant. 

“[Farmers] are thinking that it’s going to take away the clientele that they’ve been serving very successfully underground for all these years,” Mahlakata expressed.

“Trying now to get away from the North American’s [standard] of 0.3 or 0.2 is crazy in Africa.” Said Budden:” There is always going to be a challenging climate here and especially when you’re bringing varieties that have only ever existed in… Finland, trying to grow it here, and thinking the THC is going to stay below 0.2 [is absurd]. 

Cannabis Stigmatization

Additionally, Mahlakata mentioned the issue of embedded cannabis stigmatization juxtaposed to the notion long-held by indigenous people that cannabis always has medicinal qualities. 

“Cannabis is a gateway drug, a gateway to a more natural way of living, not to addiction. I truly believe that those who work for nature, nature will look after.” Said Budden.

“It’s taken over 100 years to stigmatize the plant, and now all of a sudden you wake up one day, and it’s all systems go, and we are told that it is actually medicinal which is what the rural have been saying all along.” Said Mahlakata: “So there’s also that element of undermining the existing indigenous knowledge, and I think it’s very important that we incorporate developments that may come up with regards to the overall industry with the existing knowledge and also include the rural farmers, the small scale farmers in whatever is to be gained.”

Budden replied: “We need to look at our local genetics, we need to look at what we have here already, the varieties that you have learned how to grow here and not need all the inputs that any foreign nation would need.”