The Eastern Cape government is leaping into the future, with a ‘cannabis college’, which it hopes to have up and running within the next year. The province’s Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) have plans to turn an abandoned former teaching college in rural Lusikisiki into a training centre, to help local youth capitalise on the global cannabis industry boom. Located in what’s referred to as the ‘dagga belt’ in the Eastern Cape, stretching from the Wild Coast and inland towards KZN, Lusikisiki has been named one of the prime hotspots for mass scale dagga growing. According to...
The Eastern Cape government is leaping into the future, with a ‘cannabis college’, which it hopes to have up and running within the next year.

The province’s Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) have plans to turn an abandoned former teaching college in rural Lusikisiki into a training centre, to help local youth capitalise on the global cannabis industry boom. Located in what’s referred to as the ‘dagga belt’ in the Eastern Cape, stretching from the Wild Coast and inland towards KZN, Lusikisiki has been named one of the prime hotspots for mass scale dagga growing.

According to Khutala Mditshane spokeperson Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, during a recent visit Canada, led by an Eastern Cape government delegation, it was discovered that Canadian companies in the cannabis industry were raking in millions processing the Eastern Cape grown plant.“ During that visit it was also found that in fact, Lusikisiki was known for having the best cannabis in the Eastern Cape,” said Mditshane. She added that the provincial government wanted to remove the stigma around cannabis, and to spread the word that it was more than just for smoking.

Here comes SA’s first dagga college!_1

In the Lusikisiki area in the Eastern Cape two crops of dagga can be grown a year as the conditions are optimal. Picture: iStock

Myrtle Clark, Cannabis advocacy group Fields of Green For All founder, said research they had done showed the province made for optimum growing potential, but warned that government’s slow pace in developing the law to support a legally operating industry would dampen the high interest the country’s recent legalisation of the substance had created in foreign investors.

“I think all over SA and overseas, the Eastern Cape is known as a prime cannabis growing area. There are also a lot of places in the Eastern Cape where you can get two crops in a year, which is great. They have the right altitude and the land rises so far from the sea that they don’t get frost in the winters like in the rest of the country,” said Clark.

Medical Use:

Since personal use of the dagga plant and its possession was legalised in 2018, the country has seen the inclusion of Cannabidiol (CBD) as a recognised Schedule 6 medicine and was expected to begin regulating other components of medicinal cannabis for prescribed health conditions.

While this was seen as a victory for those who laud the plant’s medicinal properties, organisations such as the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) were reluctant to support the medical use of cannabis until its commercial use was fully legalised and clinical trials had been conducted on cannabidiol and other elements of the plant said to be medicinal.

Despite it being known to many dagga growers as carrying medicinal properties for cancer-related pain among other ailments, the association maintained that until there was scientific and legal clarity on the medical use of cannabis in South Africa, it urged patients to stick to the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on cancer pain management, and argued that there were already sufficient and widely available treatments for the effects of cancer.

According to the South African Health Products Authority (SAHPRA) spokesperson Yuven Gounden, South Africans who wanted to buy medical cannabis products could do so by making a Section 21 application through the agency.

A successful application, according to Gounden, “… allows for certain people who have certain conditions to access cannabis-related products and mainly it is for things like pain and nausea, post-chemotherapy and those conditions. The application has to go through SAHPRA. So, you apply with an indication of what condition you have and we examine it and decide whether or not to grant an application.”

But as Fields of Green points out in its campaigns, there was still no practicable way to access South African medical cannabis.

“Well, look, there is no-one in South Africa who can do that, only countries overseas, basically where they have the authorisation and have been approved by institutions like the FDA. So that’s the common law that we follow,” said Gounden.

“Pharmaceutical companies supply it to South Africa for those patients that have been granted the application. We are allowed to import medicinal cannabis if sufficient reason is provided, and if a section 21 application was successful.”

It is still illegal to buy and sell cannabis, barring a limited amount of CBD in certain products, in South Africa.

Legal grey areas:

The recent crackdown by police on massive dagga growing operations under suspicion of illegally selling the substance highlighted the need for South Africans to be aware of that it was only personal use and growth of the substance that was legal.

Here comes SA’s first dagga college!_2

A Rastafarian smoke marijuana outside the Constitutional Court on September 18, 2018 after the Con Court has ruled that the personal use of marijuana is not a criminal offence, South Africans are allowed to smoke and grow dagga at home. Picture: Cebisile Mbonani

“That’s the problem that the police are trying to cut down. There are certain regulations that need to be complied with and it’s all for the safety of the public, because we cannot have people selling these things publicly, especially if it’s something that could killed them. There needs to be some kind of process that must be followed.There are different licences that can be issued.”

According to Fields Of Green For All Activist Charl Henning, South Africa’s lack of policy direction on cannabis was encouraging unconstitutional acts by law enforcement when dealing with dagga growers, after the plant’s partial legalisation.

“The only way to access medical cannabis in this country is illegally. Government has made zero provisions for that despite what Sahpra may say, there is no way that a person can access medical cannabis except by breaking the law. No doctors can prescribe it, and you cannot simply buy it in South Africa. If you buy it anywhere else, like America but you cannot fly cannabis in to SA from another country, you can only fly with cannabis locally,” he complained.

‘Police are misinterpreting and abusing that judgement because it says that if you have any doubt, you should not arrest that person. Our biggest fight at the moment is to stop the arrests and the best way that can be done is through better legislation, so that police are not arresting people for no reason over a plant. We need evidence-based policies. Police need to be able to have evidence that there is enough harm being caused to validate an arrest.”

But despite the long road ahead in achieving legal and policy clarity on dagga in South Africa, Mdletshe said the Eastern Cape government was determined to re-brand cannabis as more than just a smoking plant, but an agent of change an opportunity for marginalised communities to benefit from the multi-billion Rand industry in the country.

It was time, she said, that multinationals buying the plant in droves from South African growers were not the only ones benefiting from global demand for the South African dagga plant.
Simnikiweh@citizen.co.za

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