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George Joubert tells Seed Inc readers how it really is!

Why won’t the South African Government give Previously Disadvantaged Communities the Cannabis laws needed to lift themselves out of poverty?

Recently I sat through two days of parliamentary hearings covering the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill and the most remarkable aspect was that the SA Cannabis industry largely speaks with a united voice. Speaker after speaker emphasised the need to shape an industry which would benefit our unique cultural, biological, social and environmental attributes. We are the third largest consumer and producer of Cannabis in the world. Surely it would make sense to bring the marginalised communities that service this crucial, albeit illicit economy into the mainstream where everyone would benefit through a more transparent approach? Instead of treating cannabis users and producers as criminals we could address our massive unemployment problems and start tackling rural epidemics like Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and GBV.

Our government has ignored this advice and published a set of rules that Walt Disney would marvel at. They are slavishly adhering to the illogical rules of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) – a body established by the American government to impose racist laws on countries filled with impoverished people, the rules to which the USA themselves don’t abide. A great example of this hypocrisy is the arbitrary definition of hemp as being Cannabis Sativa with a THC content below 0.2%. THC is the Cannabis plant’s natural sunblock – the ‘brighter’ the sun the more THC the plant naturally produces. Since SA has one of the richest spectra of sunlight on the planet, a strain that produces 0.1% THC in Europe will probably produce 1% THC in parts of South Africa. Guess what? In the US many states allow THC percentages of up to 2% in their Industrial hemp crop. Under our current laws all plant material exceeding these absurdly low limits must be destroyed. The farmer might have wanted to use the entire biomass as a cover crop, or for tillage, or to sequester heavy metals from his soil – regardless he will have to destroy this valuable commodity.

The madness inherent in the above scenario is self-evident. I am working with a selection of commercial farmers clamouring to grow thousands of hectares of hemp, and I am advising them against doing so given the current legal framework and lack of political will to build a sustainable hemp industry. It would be bad enough if the current system failed only the commercial farmers, but the requirements will literally be impossible for the small-scale farmers to comply with, thus offering them the choice between continuing to grow their cannabis illegally, or allowing their families to starve. Our country is using racist laws to criminalise the very community the racists were trying to marginalise in the first place, though this time it is the people they voted into power who continue to enslave them – eish!

Perhaps an even bigger blight on the recently published hemp regulations in their current form, is that they completely ignore the rich diversity and unique attributes of our African Cannabis ‘Landrace Strains’. Landraces are strains that have adapted to the unique conditions prevailing in a particular micro-climate – Cannabis Sativa changes its composition in a fundamental manner due to these Epigenetic changes. The epigenetics affects the profile of the plant almost as much as the actual genetics of the seed. So instead of focusing our efforts on the incredible landraces we already have – highly sought after globally for the medicinal and wellness characteristics – we are building our industry around imported genetics that are bound to perform differently under local conditions. Our landraces are water-wise and reflect the incredible terpenes of the Cape Floristic Region (for example) and yet we are going to ignore these and introduce alien genetics. Currently no-one is legally able to produce our landraces for domestic commercial or medicinal uses, with the very real danger that they get lost due to the tsunami of imported genetics already servicing our domestic market. Cannabis plants also cross-pollinate with each other – with pollen able to carry kilometres on the right breeze – so any introduction of new genetics dilutes the unique attributes of the local landraces.

We need to demand more of the people who serve us in government. Why are we trying to build a medicinal cannabis industry hamstrung by EU-GMP Phytosanitary standards (don’t get me started) when we have a myriad natural cures and uses for our cannabis strains handed down through our Sangomas and Healers for millennia – how can we ignore this incredible knowledge-base and the dignity of the people using this plant to heal their people? Ironically the world is moving towards Cannabis medication grown organically and outdoors as much as possible, thus playing into the hands of our existing cannabis industry. Many of our strains produce incredible levels of THCV – a cannabinoid highly sought after for its pain management abilities – it occurs naturally and in great abundance when grown in the traditional manner. Sadly, I know of numerous intrepid souls who set out to grow medicinal cannabis in South Africa – investing tens of millions in the process – only to be stuck with a ton or more of cannabis that does not match the aforementioned EU-GMP standards, nor do our laws allow them to turn this incredible harvest into crude oil for the domestic medical industry. In the process any excess microbes or heavy metals could be extracted leaving a product highly suited to many applications. We are stuck with draconian laws that make little sense and a government not willing to engage her citizens in a constructive discussion around the future of Cannabis.

All is not lost. We have an active citizenry and a highly passionate cannabis community in Mzansi. We are lobbying both within the bounds of the law and in the grey areas where meaningful change needs to occur. A sustainable, inclusive and vertically integrated South African cannabis industry is within our reach – we need to continue striving to achieve this goal speedily if we are to address our nation’s need!

An Opinion Piece by George Joubert

During the last twenty years George has been self-employed in businesses as diverse as Event Management, Retro Furniture Sales, Marketing, Copywriting and Hospitality.

For the last ten years his focus has been Property Development culminating in his current business, Flourish Property.

Excited by the confluence of his two great passions – property and Cannabis – George believes the Cannabis plant will aid South Africa in resolving issues of self-sufficiency for small-scale farmers, and therefore alleviate economic impoverishment where it is needed most.

By working with landowners large and small, George aims to improve security of tenure and create large-scale employment.