The new bits of paper flying about wildly this past month on the winds of change have us ALL paying close attention. Are these Cannabis Policy Reforms for good – or are they merely the product of fast-tracking to get new Cannabis laws into play before the 6th Parliament ends?
Last month, we received a long overdue Directive to the SAPS that will hopefully help curb unlawful arrests and raids on the wider South African Cannabis Community. Additionally, we have a new version of the draft Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill B19-2020 – a Working Document in truth – doing the rounds. It was preceded by about a week with a response to the Public Comments hosted by the Portfolio Committee of the Department of Justice and Correctional Services on said draft Bill.
As we engage with what appears to be the much awaited positive policy reforms stemming from the tireless efforts of Fields of Green for ALL and our various allies and similarly aligned stakeholders, we are not without the blight of spurious rats seeking to further their reputations and instil their influence.
FOLLOW YOUR DIRECTIVE, SOLDIER
Just as the Cannabis Phakisa Action Lab (June 2023) came to a close, rumours abounded about a moratorium on Cannabis arrests – this never transpired. Then, when the Police Directive on Arrests by the South African Police Service for Cannabis-Related Matters started circulating around the end of August, social media channels were abuzz once again with proclamations that arrests are finally over or under moratorium.
This Directive is NOT a Moratorium. To clarify, a Directive is defined as: “an official instruction or order” – which means the SAPS are merely being instructed on how to act in the presence of Cannabis. A Moratorium is the “stopping of an activity for an agreed amount of time” – which is not at all applicable to Cannabis regulation presently as arrests can and do still happen. Quantities, profiling, and a litany of other silliness are all part of this.
Arrests will not stop easily. It will take time for the SAPS to catch up – the bunch of saps that they are. We will have to see Cannabis removed from the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 1992 alongside rescheduling in the Medicines Act 1965 (again). These step appear to be underway.
We would like to remind you ALL that arrests can and will still happen. Our 24/7 victim support helpline #StopTheCops is still receiving calls of arrests, with our legal people confirming that the Cannabis Directive is not being adhered to.
There remains uncertainty regarding how quickly arrests will cease once the completely overdue Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill is indeed enacted. We are still awaiting clarity on the Commercialisation of Cannabis and what that will entail for individuals and businesses alike.
WHAT’S THAT ABOUT THE DRAFT CANNABIS BILL?
No matter the claims you may read on social media or hear in your conversations, the Working Document presently doing the rounds is the latest draft of the draft Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, but it may not be the final version of said draft Bill.
The draft Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill B19-2020 is presently in the National Assembly. This means that we may possibly see another round of Public Comments on it before it moves onto the National Council of Provinces, after which it will receive its Presidential Signature, or become an Act – the Cannabis for Private Purposes Act. The timeline is roughly outlined by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, with basic details offered on what happens/happened when. However, there is no clear date for when the draft Bill will become law.
The Working Document is nevertheless a win, of its own kind, for our Four Platforms of Use: Responsible Adult Use; Health Uses; Industrial Uses; and Traditional, Religious, and Cultural Uses. Indeed, all Four Platforms can be covered by Private Purposes, but need not be exclusively “private”.
Indeed, this new version of the Bill purely focuses on Private Purposes, with no more mention of its commercial aspects. The commercialisation of Cannabis will fall to the Department of Trade, Industry & Competition. Cannabis Cultivation for non-Private Purposes is presumably falling to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development, according to discussions at the Cannabis Phakisa Action Lab. However, it is unclear if the Department of Health and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority will relinquish their control on cultivation for Medicinal and Research Purposes. It is further uncertain at this time if Trade in Cannabis for Responsible Adult Use will be allowed under the DTIC and developing Cannabis Policy and Reforms.
Ultimately, we remain steadfast in wanting to see the Plant completely unleashed within an enabling, inclusive, equitable, and sustainable framework that can legitimise existing markets and see an end to the injustices at the hands of our thugs in blue. The Cannabis Phakisa made no bones about migrating Cannabis from the illicit to the licit market – something which we would like to hold the Presidency accountable to.
Surprisingly, quantities and limits are not at all present in the draft Bill, which appears to be a significant win for most small-scale growers. However, police discretion and disregard for the current Directive on Cannabis arrests reveal that the proposed penalties may yet mar any premature celebrations.
Penalties are obsessively focused on R2000 – which still means that there will be limitations on the relationships we have with the Plant.
The victories won are indeed small. Yet, they do indicate that the evidence presented at the various Public Comments sessions over the past few years, as well as evidence presented by civil society stakeholders at the Cannabis Phakisa is finally being heard.
A RESPONSE AT LAST
Three Public Comment sessions down and a total facelift later, the draft Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill (B19-2020) may hopefully see a fourth and final round of Public Comments before it goes through the remaining steps to become an Act. We are awaiting an update on this.
After each session of Public Comments to the Portfolio Committee of the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, we have received promises of responses. The response to the May 2023 sessions was sent out in the first week of September. This delay did of course afford us the Cannabis Phakisa Action Lab under Project Vulindlela to kickstart the fast tracking process for development in this sunrise sector. It should be remembered, however, that the State is quite insistent on passing the Bill into an Act before the end of the 6th Parliament, hence all the action we are seeing this year – a long while indeed since the 2018 Constitutional Court Ruling.
September additionally marks the first time we saw any movement on the Bill other than the media statement following the end of the third Public Comments sessions hosted. Offering a summary of the comments made by various civil society representatives to the Portfolio Committee, the same acknowledged that the Bill was massively unconstitutional. In sum, the Portfolio Committee heard that:
“[The] Bill does not adequately address the regulation of the cannabis industry, taxation or access to medicinal cannabis. Moreover, it risks perpetuating the current inequalities and injustices in the criminal justice system, as it does not address the impact of previous criminalisation policies on communities most affected by the drug policy.”
Essentially, this acknowledges how each presenter at the three Public Comments sessions over the past few years has raised crucial issues within the draft Cannabis Bill. Requests were therefore made as to the evidence used for the proposed regulations and demands have been made to see active discrimination of ALL who have a relationship with Cannabis come to an end. It seems that both evidence and sense are finally presiding, as reflected in the draft Bill and response both.
We are eager to see the Plant unleashed. However, we are equally cautious about how things are playing out and the dizzying pace at which they are taking place after such an arduous process to get the ball rolling. We will keep you updated on how we are ALL finally – and hopefully – being liberated. We will continue this battle for as long as it takes to ensure we have Fields of Green for ALL!