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South Africa scents new cannabis markets

By Crystal Orderson, in Cape Town
Posted on Tuesday, 9 April 2019 13:31

A man prunes plants at an Israeli cannabis-growing company. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Shaking cannabis clear of its stoner image will ever be difficult, but South Africa's decriminalisation of the drug has a serious business upside.

Fancy a cup of cannabis coffee? Perhaps interested in the latest hemp fashion or the different medicinal uses of cannabis oil or medicines?

Two recent cannabis expositions in Pretoria and Cape Town show a growing appetite to understand what the crop can offer both from an agricultural and economic front.

So could South Africa sell marijuana to export markets?

It is certainly becoming a formalised business elsewhere in the world.

More than 30,000 people attended the two expositions, with Cape Town’s recent cannabis expo attracting close to 17,000 people. With further cannabis expos being planned for Durban and Johannesburg organisers now want to explore opportunities in neighbouring Lesotho and Zimbabwe, too.

“People want to see what the industry is all about – even the Zimbabwean Health minister attended the event,” organiser Silas Howarth tells The Africa Report. “We are looked at what is happening in Canada, Australia, the US and the EU. We never had [an expo] on home soil so we created the meeting point for the entire industry in Africa and South Africa.”

Why the sudden interest?

  • In September 2018, in a landmark judgement, South Africa’s Constitutional Court decriminalised the possession and cultivation of cannabis in private by adults for personal private consumption.
  • But the court order was suspended until parliament reconvenes (the 6th parliament will only be convened sometime in May/June) so that law-makers can rectify the defects in current legislation framework.
  • Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo ruled that the police cannot arrest adults who “privately cultivate, possess or use relatively small amounts of cannabis”.

Which provinces would be ideal for the crop?

“Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo are ideal areas – they have the right climate and these are also provinces that could do with some economic development,” says Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa. He thinks the states that have legalised cannabis in the US offer clear export market potential.

But but but: “[A lot depends on] how it will be regulated, and we should also engage on the issue of unintended consequences,” Sihlobo adds. “We would like to see proper research done and a clear map [of] the market.”

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