Feedback on the 3rd and final round of public comments on the %$#@ing Bill
The public comments hosted by the Portfolio Committee on Justice & Correctional Services on the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill this past week revealed a few hard, but necessary truths.
Running over the mornings of 23 to 24 May 2023, the sessions saw the Four Platforms of Cannabis Use represented in the presentations by stakeholders, companies, lobby groups, civic organisations, researchers, and various cultural, traditional, and religious organisations.
Misinformation and the wilfully ignorant
While all spoke against the general unconstitutional trends still pervasive in the Bill as a whole, Doctors for Life – who were present despite being in contempt of the court and owing Fields of Green for ALL a substantial amount of money – saw fit to close the sessions by spreading further misinformation about Cannabis, contorting facts and wholly contradicting themselves along the way.
This is unfortunate for so many reasons.
Over the course of the presentations, members of the Portfolio Committee made it abundantly clear that they have NOT engaged with the information provided in the two public comment sessions prior, nor even the evidence provided since the 2018 ConCourt ruling that has brought us this far (not that this is all that far, mind).
Responses to past presentations have proven relatively superficial; little attention has been paid to the Human Rights and Constitutional violations written into the Bill. It is uncertain how many of these points will indeed be addressed before the Bill goes to the National Council of Provinces – one of the final steps before being passed.
The public comments were meant to be limited to Industrial Cannabis this round. However, like us, many presenters highlighted that it makes little sense to include the commercialisation of Cannabis for Industrial Purposes into a bill centred on Private Purposes.
Cannabis by any other name
At various intervals, the Committee members demanded to know why presenters make no distinction between Industrial Cannabis and “hemp”, despite being informed each time that “hemp” is merely a recently adopted vernacular term that imposes a false means by which to limit THC levels in Cannabis grown or used for Industrial Purposes.
Had the Committee engaged with the earlier provided information – as well as what is already widely available from credible sources – they would understand that the purpose for which Cannabis is grown is not in any way determined by THC amounts.
The Committee revealed through their blunders that they are guilty of overlooking a pertinent clause relating to Industrial Cannabis in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 (SC61):
28.2 “This Convention shall not apply to the cultivation of the cannabis plant exclusively for industrial purposes (fibre and seed) or horticultural purposes.”
This point was highlighted by Chief Zwelikhanyile Diko of the Magignqi Community Trust, Nicholas Heinamann of Afristar Cannabis Lobby Group, and Etienne van Zyl – the Social Anthropologist focused on Drug Policy.
Heinamann pointed out that nations known for “hemp” have, in fact, always utilised “traditional landrace varieties […] for industrial purposes”, thereby pointing out that moving away from arbitrary THC limits is required if we are to legitimise our existing Landrace Cannabis for the commercial market.
Making provision for Landrace Cannabis will also allow protections for their custodians to benefit from the promises the Cannabis Sector holds.
What about the ladies?
One disturbing tendency in the sessions was the silencing of female voices among the presenters.
Ilse Ferriera, presenting for Qure on Tuesday, faced a strange inquisition from the Committee, needing first to prove her years of experience with and expertise on the Plant. Clearly Mr Du Preez had no idea he was facing down a true warrior for the people – we salute you, Sister!
Our own Myrtle (fiery Clarke of the Plant) was refused the opportunity to finish while others were allowed ample time to complete their presentations and actively expand on what they had said in the Q&A that followed their presentations. This is a pure show of bias and blunt refusal of Parliament to enjoy the fruits of OUR hard labour!
Moleboheng Semela, a Cannabis researcher linked to the University of Free State, discussed the various pitfalls of how Industrial Cannabis is presently regulated with the permit system as well as how Industrial Cannabis does not belong in the Bill. Semela faced down questions from the Committee that were in themselves flawed and misinformed. Although pushed to frustration, Semela maintained her cool and corrected the Committee on the various errors in their points and demanded that the evidence pointed to be made available in some way – something the Committee reneged on all too quickly.
This misplaced trend of clear sexism was somewhat balanced thanks to the most sensible questions coming from individuals like Ms Nomathemba H. Maseko-Jele.
Maseko-Jele not only asked some pertinent questions of the presenters to ensure she is properly educated on the various matters pertaining to Cannabis but saw fit to ask why the Committee had not yet engaged with the previously presented information. She also wanted to know why the Committee had not taken an evidence-based approach in drafting the Bill.
While I could rant and ramble about the clear show of ineptitude from the Committee and how they have clearly not engaged with the provided evidence with rigour nor the necessary attention, it is best to simply quote Mr. Makhubela Mokulubete, State Law Advisor, Department of Justice & Constitutional Development on this matter.
When asked by Andre Du Plessis, presenting for the Cannabis Action Group, “how the Bill has ended up deriving three different scenarios for one molecule” – some of which end in criminalisation while others do not – and “what science informed this,” Mokulubete filibustered a tad more before he got “ straight to this question”:
“We looked at the practices of the different countries to [how do they] legislate the use and possession of Cannabis and we’ve drawn from that. We could not get a scientific determination of what will be sufficient for personal consumption or what will be sufficient plants for cultivation. We used previously determined quantities of Cannabis and Cannabis plants, that’s where we come from in relation to this.”
Mokulubete was asked by the Chair to clarify, leading himself to dig a deeper hole:
“We do not have a scientific measure of determination of what will constitute a sufficient amount for personal consumption, and the quantities that we have in the Bill are in accordance with what I can call practices from different countries and we drew from those and then we invited comments from the […] public to assist us in coming up with the sufficient numbers and quantities. We [are] still stuck with that because people are not assisting in as far as […] what quantities can be included in the Bill.”
Placing the onus on civil society when evidence has already been provided as to why upper limits on quantity and THC makes no sense highlights only that the Committee has not, and likely will not, adequately engaged with those most impacted by their wilful ignorance of the facts.
In a supplemental submission made to the Committee on Tuesday, Paul-Michael Keichel of Cullinans & Associates Inc outlines that:
You have been respectfully cautioned before that individuals and members of civil society organisations are primed to challenge the Bill in Court if, in its final form, it retains its presently unconstitutional elements.
This holds the voice of all Cannabis proponents that hope to unleash the Plant, inclusively, equitably, and sustainably. It is time we scrap this Bill. If not, we are doomed to waste time and money litigating its many flaws to ensure our Human and Constitutional Rights to Cannabis are upheld!
You can view the sessions here: