Myrtle’s Op-Ed For The Mail & Guardian Special 420 Edition 2024

By |Published On: April 22nd, 2024|

Mail & Guardian, 19 APRIL 2024

‘Sunrise’ cannabis sector still to emerge in SA

It feels as if we have been at a critical juncture with our ‘sunrise’ South African Cannabis sector for the last two decades. Confusion reigns amid legal uncertainty; pot shops are opening on every second corner and our president has been unable to find his pen since the end of February, if we even want him to find it. It is painful to watch our beloved Cannabis community divided on some strategic issues but it is #420 this week, on a Saturday nogal, and I can assure you that many, many South Africans will be celebrating this, our International Dagga Day, with spliffs and bongs, dabs and delicious edibles, great music, delectable food, and generous, like-minded company this weekend.

I would like to take a step back and salute the members of our diverse Cannabis culture. Without their love and support Fields of Green for ALL would never have been able to keep going after we lost our Jules.

South Africans know that this is a Human Rights issue that is really difficult to contextualise within a drug war rhetoric. South Africans work to promote Harm Reduction principles across the board, from the safety of our Dagga Private Clubs to companies (mostly) making every effort to supply safe Cannabis and related products. We also recognise that Cannabis is, in and of itself, a Harm Reduction tool and we will never have to retrofit our sector in the way that we have seen with other, more potent drugs made even more harmful by prohibition. 

This is why we are all very pleased that Harm Reduction is now part of Drug Policy language internationally, after it was (finally!) recognized by the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) last month. This is a big step as previously we only ever heard of demand reduction and supply  reduction. In the big picture, the harms of prohibition have always outweighed the perceived harms of the Cannabis plant and its uses. We have all been saying this for decades and we hope that South Africa takes note.

At Fields of Green for ALL we know that Drug Policy Reform is not a straight road from taking the government to court and then progressing to the point where we have shiny new laws that are evidence based, tick the constitutional boxes and off we all go into a promised land full of Cannabis and fat bank accounts and everyone is happy.

Sadly and frustratingly, trade still remains illegal in South Africa. The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill (CfPPB) is sorely lacking in some, but not all, respects. It was always going to be a Private Purposes bill. Court papers may be immaculate and activism fervent but once we moved into the realm of politics – Parliamentary Portfolio Committees, endless “stakeholder engagement” meetings and enough “Indabas” to make the producers of Ricoffy rich – we entered muddy waters. It was always going to be this way.

If we walk upstream of the muddy waters that bother us, we can remember that this 20 April for International Dagga Day there will be thousands upon thousands of our community who actually  use this plant celebrating together under waterfalls of love and understanding, washing themselves clean of the mess that is our “sunrise” sector. Maybe we send our troubles up into the sky in a puff of smoke, just for the day.

Let us celebrate the gains we have made since the dark days of full prohibition when there were 1000 arrests a day in South Africa, while we commit to doubling down our efforts to separate the South African Police and the Cannabis people, forever.

Let us commit to knowing our rights when we come across the old lemons of prohibition and stand up to stigma, wherever it presents itself – that casual remark at the Sunday lunch table, those sniggers and giggles we know are a sign of ignorance about our favourite plant-based drug. Be proud of your relationship with the Cannabis plant, it is certainly not anything to be ashamed of, never has been.

Maybe we can take a step back and see the CfPPB as an interim bill  on our way to a well thought out, evidence-based Cannabis for ALL Purposes Bill. Let us advocate for the regulations currently being crafted to underline the CfPPB, to expand and grow into regulations that encompass ALL four platforms of Cannabis Use – Responsible Adult Use as the umbrella providing constitutional cover for Traditional, Cultural and Religious Uses; the much-touted Uses for Industrial Hemp, and our precious Health Uses (outside the strict and exclusionary prescription medicines arena).

Let us stand in solidarity with our fellow Africans who are far behind on the legalisation journey and commit to South Africa being the shining green light for the rest of our continent.

South Africa needs to take our place at the international table, together with other developing countries who are championing their historic uses of plant-based drugs. At the recent CND at the UN in March, Columbia and Bolivia expressed very clear dissatisfaction with the status quo when it comes to international drug conventions, and openly defended and promoted their own traditional plant based-drug, coca leaf, sacred among indigenous peoples.  They received resounding support. In South Africa, Dagga has an equivalent traditional and cultural status. But where was South Africa during the CND? Sitting in the background not showing any signs of grasping what was at stake. 

South Africa still uses the excuse that drug control treaties do not allow the legalisation of Cannabis beyond personal use in order to keep themselves in a comfortable, supposedly compliant position on the international stage. Not only is Cannabis being legalised in parts of the world, regardless of compliance, but Colombia explained during the CND how the  Article 2(Paragraph 9) of the 1961 Convention provides a lawful framework to legalise coca leaf for “other than medical and scientific purposes” (that is “nonmedical purposes”). The exact same path is also viable  for the legalisation of Cannabis, and would maintain conformity with the Convention. 

Not only did Colombia and Bolivia announced their plans to legalise coca leaf and defend the rights of traditional and indigenous coca farmers (against prohibition but also other threats like biopiracy, the plundering of plant heritage and knowledge) but they also set up displays promoting the beauty and usefulness of the coca plant, in the UN main hall. The South African delegation to CND, besides being there to represent our beautiful Cannabis community (including indigenous communities) has yet to stick its neck out.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa finds his pen, Cannabis will be out of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 1992. That is huge. Where to put Cannabis within our legal framework, and how to regulate it without the police coming to the gate to count our plants, is one of the next big questions. As are the pivotal questions posed by Fields of Green for ALL’s 10 CRISIS POINTS on the road to Cannabis legalisation. None of these are easy fixes but, as we see the rise in significance being given to our indigenous and traditional knowledge systems, and the protection of our genetic resources, we will continue to petition our leaders, in all ways possible, for a clear way forward.

The Ten Crisis Points: (image below)


After the smoke has settled following successful #420 celebrations across South Africa, we will gather again in streets, across the country, to send a strong message to the powers that be that we will not give up or go away.  On the 4th of May South African Cannabis communities will participate in the Global Cannabis March 2024, in solidarity with our fellow communities around the world. See you there!

It is said that we are not free until we are all free. As the Cannabis community, we need to keep reminding ourselves of how far we have come and continue to work towards a strategically targeted plan leveraging our hard-won gains. A specifically South African solution, carefully crafted, can be an example for the world.

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: Charl Henning

I have worked at Fields of Green For All and Stop The Cops since 2014. Apart from day to day admin I also man our helpline and support victims of arrest.

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