South Africa

New cannabis laws for South Africa leave users and businesses hanging

South Africa remains in a ‘legal limbo’ around cannabis, with the new Cannabis for Private Purpose Bill awaiting finalisation, leaving growers and private users uncertain about the boundaries of the law.

Myrtle Clarke, founder of Green for All, told 702 that the legislative framework remains unclear, with the bill in question becoming a point of contention between lawmakers, private groups and users.

Amendments to the bill proposed by private entities have not been taken into account in the drafting process, Clarke said, adding that the version of the regulations that is open for public comment has come out as being more unconstitutional than they were before the changes.

Currently, the laws allow that cannabis can be used and cultivated within private spaces. However, uncertainty persists about what constitutes “private spaces”, she said – ie, whether your home, car or other owned space is included.

While you can grow and consume cannabis at home, trade remains illegal unless you can get your hands on a licence, which is near-impossible to attain.

Another hole within the current legislative framework around cannabis is that in the landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court that ignited the semi-legalisation of non-medical use – there is no specification on the number of plants one is allowed to grow.

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The proposed bill aims to address this, but until laws are in place, everything continues to operate in a legal grey area.

As a result, there are instances where police arrest people with small amounts, arriving at a home claiming that a person has too many plants, said Clarke.

Legal firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr said that as it stands, under the Medicines Act, through an application to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, patients can buy and use unregistered medical cannabis products for legitimate, therapeutic purposes.

Adult individuals may legally grow and consume cannabis in private for any reason, as well as purchase it for medical purposes.

Big business money grab

Uncertainty around personal use of cannabis persists even as regulators appear keen to prioritise the cannabis ‘gold rush’.

Even President Cyril Ramaphosa is investigating the cannabis economy, which is promised to lift South Africa out of some of its economic headwinds.

During the State of the Nation Address in February of this year, Ramaphosa said that government will fast-track regulations for the cannabis industry.

He claimed that industrial hemp and cannabis have “huge” potential for investment and job creation and that the government will review the policy and regulatory framework for a variety of processes in order to realize this potential. He claimed that this would be good news for residents of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal in particular.

He claimed that these goods, which had previously been raised for a variety of uses, would now be industrialized – “We want to harness this.”

This is not exactly as simple as it seems, Clarke said, noting that the government is likely overselling the opportunities the industry could yield.

It is more important that authorities manage the consumer laws first, she said.

Instead, it seems as if big business or government may be withholding personal trade for everyone else while they get their ‘ducks in row’ to jump into the market, said Clarke.

Read: Sharing these messages on WhatsApp can land you in serious legal trouble in South Africa

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