Leaving No-one Behind – Sustainable Cannabis

By |Published On: June 8th, 2020|
Sustainable Development Goals

As part of Fields of Green for ALL’s #CannabisCanHelpSouthAfrica(CCHSA) campaign running for the month of June 2020, we will be unpacking a policy tool we’ve developed called the Full Spectrum Model, which aims to address concerns of inequality and corruption, as well as taking into account our country’s long standing history with Cannabis. Our aim is to design a sustainable Cannabis model that leaves no-one behind.

Our experience, being at the forefront of Cannabis legalisation in South Africa, as well as working with fellow civil society activists from around the world, has meant we are able to provide unique insight into how Cannabis should be regulated. Currently, the local Cannabis industry regulates itself and is commonly labelled as the ‘black’ or ‘illicit’ market in South Africa, as well as across the world. This self-regulation has evolved as an attempt to fill the gap left by the lack of regulations provided by the State. This self-regulation is embedded in social structures and must not be overlooked or ignored. The good news is that a foundation of self-regulation, despite the fact that it constitutes unlawful activity, is also a very useful tool for developing legal regulation.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 detailed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides an efficient tool for the framing of policy reforms. With this in mind we have developed six ethical principles that should be used as a foundational stepping stone to help guide discussions on Cannabis policies, regulations and laws:

  1. Sustainability,
  2. Policy coherence,
  3. Attention to Women and Gender issues,
  4. Proper recognition and de-stigmatization of all uses of Cannabis – Adult use, Health uses, Industrial applications, Traditional, Cultural and Religious uses,
  5. Inclusive Cannabis Community Empowerment, in particular for victims of prohibition & people with traditional knowledge of Cannabis,
  6. Respect for Traditional Knowledge & Cultural Expressions, protection of Natural and Genetic resources, and recognition of Intellectual Property of communities.

These principles should be a focal point throughout the discussion in South Africa and be what sets us apart from the rest of the countries formulating regulations. The South African Cannabis market, post legalisation, will have many facets and dynamics across a wide spectrum of products, the dynamics of which will be dictated by supply and demand. From quality control to promoting responsible use and legal supply, each of these aspects will need to be proactively considered in alignment with these ethical principles, which will result in a more robust legal Cannabis industry

Sustainability is fundamental principle, and a legal Cannabis framework must be acutely aware of its effect on the environment as well as people. The South African Cannabis industry has an opportunity to be a leader in sustainable Cannabis cultivation techniques. We have the advantage of growing Cannabis outdoors in the sun without the need for energy intensive indoor grow facilities. Similar to the free-range food movement, the Cannabis industry can adopt “green” growing certifications which can create a framework to grow Cannabis in a sustainable way from an energy and environmental perspective. Coupled with the increased demand for African landrace cultivars, South African Cannabis, grown sustainably, can become a valuable commodity in the global market.

Delving deeper into the social issues around Cannabis prohibition both here locally and overseas, we find large numbers of Cannabis related incarcerations and citizens debilitated by criminal records. It is socially and ethically unjust to have our citizens in prison for Cannabis offences whilst a legal market is being formed outside of their jail cells. We believe, as part of creating a Cannabis industry, we need to address the harms of prohibition by expunging all previous criminal records for the use, possession, and trade in Cannabis as well as releasing all Cannabis prisoners, with no conditions.

A Bill on the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (B6-2016) recognizes that “indigenous knowledge is a national asset and that it is therefore in the national interest to protect and promote indigenous knowledge through law, policy and both public and private sector programmes.” In the case of South Africa, therefore, this includes not only the longstanding use and cultivation, and the specific genetics, techniques and knowledge associated with it, but also more recent cultural traditions forged within the prohibition period. Nowadays in South Africa, traditional legacy cannabis communities can be found in all regions, spanning all cultures and backgrounds.

Recognition of Intellectual Property (IP) will be of special importance in South Africa to help protect communities with traditional knowledge (TK) and traditional cultural expressions (TCE) linked to the cannabis plant and its uses. Community-focused cannabis IP protection policies will also be a tool to build local brands that add value to the historical cannabis products and cultural uses, and help create a path to engage in international fair trade.

Whilst existing laws (in particular the Counterfeit Goods Act and the Merchandise Marks Act) already allows for the protection of communities’ IP over traditional crops and genetic resources, a proper market recognition of South African landrace cultivars might require the adoption of other treaties. The Geneva Act on Appellations of Origins and Geographical Indications will expand recognition for our cannabis products beyond our borders, as well as protect the heritage IP of legacy communities.

The ultimate aim of sustainable regulations should be to mitigate the need for anyone to operate outside the law and this is achieved by making regulations and training in best practice accessible to all, and by planning incentives for the poorest. There is a contentious issue around a licensing system, and given South Africa’s history with corruption, we will fight for a more equitable system with low barriers, benefitting the neediest in our society.

Thank you to our FGA Affiliates who help to make our ongoing content creation possible!

Thank you to our FGA Affiliates who help to make our ongoing content creation possible!


About the Author: Suresh Patel

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