Government needs to speed up cannabis law reform, say protesters

“We’ve been given the constitutional right to grow and consume it, but we haven’t been given the right to trade with it,” says Linda Siboto

By Ihsaan Haffejee

19 September 2022

A protester at the Union Buildings on Saturday demonstrating against the slow pace of government reform in the cannabis industry. Photos: Ihsaan Haffejee

Various groups protested on Saturday on the lawns of the Union Buildings over the slow pace and haphazard approach to cannabis law reform and regulation in South Africa.

Under the umbrella of the Cannabis Mass Action Committee a memorandum of demands was handed to a representative of the office of The President. Cannabis legalisation and regulation, necessary to unlock the industry and change lives, is “disjointed, unfocused, and taking too long”, it says.

In 2018 the Constitutional Court declared that certain sections of the Drugs Act and Medicines Act were unconstitutional and gave Parliament 24 months to fix the defects.

Some progress has been made in the drafting of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, but no actual legislation has been passed in four years since the ruling.

Protesters gathered on the lawns of the Union Buildings under the umbrella of the Cannabis Mass Action Committee.

“We’ve been given the constitutional right to grow and consume it, but we haven’t been given the right to trade with it,” said Linda Siboto, director and co-founder at Cheeba Africa, a cannabis education academy in Johannesburg. He said some interim plan was needed “so that the industry can flourish and jobs can be created”.

Protesters also voiced concern that rural farmers who have been growing cannabis for many years will have their livelihoods threatened as big capital and foreign investors take control of the industry.

“Rural farmers have not been included in any of the master plans that have come from government … The only reason we have cannabis that is internationally renowned is due to those people in Lusikisiki and Mpondoland,” said Siboto.

“You have big pharmaceutical companies coming in and having commercial farms set up which cost millions of rands, which ordinary growers can’t compete with. So this industry is in danger of becoming like the tobacco industry. In places like America the tobacco and alcohol industries have been making big investments in cannabis … We really need the government to step in,” said Siboto.

Calls were also made for a moratorium on cannabis arrests. “Stop arresting us, we are not criminals,” was the rallying call from Myrtle Clarke, from Fields of Green for All, as the President’s representative, flanked by police, received the memo.

“How can you arrest people for selling ganja but companies like Clicks and Dischem are selling cannabis products in their stores?” asked Thapelo Khunou, one of the protest leaders.

Protesters react to the handing over of a memorandum of demands to a representative of the President’s office.