The Great High of Cannabis

Thought piece: Thabo Olivier

It was a landmark court decision on the 2nd of September 2018, that launched an epic high across South Africa when our highest court decriminalized cannabis (dagga) for use and private cultivation. I remember getting over twenty calls from friends and strangers that day, everyone wanting to cash in on this opportunity. Now at the time I was only hoping to continue to be a food security activist, with my focus area being promoting resilient, and sustainable household food gardens using waste material. But I couldn’t help to think of prospects of venturing into the industry of cannabis growing. However, I noticed very early on that the cannabis industry may be huge and have tremendous potential, but it is not a legal cash crop.

The regulations around cannabis production are exceptionally regulated and have all the hallmarks of an industry earmarked for the “big players” in my opinion.  During this year’s State of the Nation Address, president Cyril Ramaphosa’s declarations that the growth of the plant will be accelerated to turn it into an economy-boosting sector highlighted some progress from the decriminalization from the years before, however, in order to tighten regulatory kinks and push the sector forward, further engagement is needed. This made me think of the average joe in the farming value chain. Since cannabis is not considered a legal cash crop, and it is illegal to sell it, or to have it in your possession outside of your place of residence, how will one start to confidently start trading legally?

In 2019 I attempted to grow a plant or two and succeeded. My attempt was applauded by recreational users of the herb, and I was informed of the exceptional quality of this sativa strain and the beautiful “crystals” on the massive “heads”, visible to the naked eye.

Hence my dilemma. Here I have a product that is apparently very good and by all accounts very valuable, but it cannot be sold. As a non-using enthusiast of the product and unable to profit from it, the question I constantly ask myself is, where is the opportunity? The sad truth is that that the opportunity can only be realized through illicit and criminal means, unless the laws governing private marijuana production and distribution are clear, concise and help grow the local agriculturists, or the laws are completely relaxed.It is a great initiative by the government to boost confidence where cannabis production and legal regulation is concerned, but the reality is that for now, the only “legal” buyers and distributors are the pharmaceutical companies. As a regular joe, or a garden to small scale farmer, my assumption is that you would need to have a few million to spend on a permit to grow the clinical/medical cannabis, and a few million more to set up the prerequisite production plant. Otherwise, we all have to be content in growing 4 plants at home, or a maximum of 8 if there are two adults who both reside at the same address as their “domicilium citandi et executandi”.

As for myself, I still grow veggies out of buckets and bottles and hope to see more being done to continue to boost the economic cycle of cannabis in South Africa. The opportunity is there, but I believe to best keep the cannabis economy high, we need to have all stakeholders having a piece of the pie.