North American cannabis politics could not be hotter at the moment. Things have really progressed to a boiling point. There are more states than ever that allow medical or recreational adult use cannabis, and in the great white north of Canada, the whole country is preparing itself for legalization. And the trend seems to be taking on the entire world. Europe has followed suit with more EU member countries granting access to medical cannabis. But today we are going to be discussing cannabis politics in Africa.
While Africa is an incredibly diverse and large place, not all countries are discussing cannabis, but South Africa certainly is. The crop has been grown there for hundreds of years and remains popular to this day. Known as dagga it remains illegal for recreational or medical use. But a potential alteration to the law could see that changed.
It is believed that cannabis was introduced to Africa by early Arab or Indian Hindu travellers because it was already a popular commodity by the time Europeans arrived in 1652. By 2008, there were roughly 3.2 million cannabis users in South Africa, and in 2003 Interpol rated South Africa as the fourth largest cannabis producer in the world, as most of the cannabis seized in the UK has South African origins.
Their history is full of dagga and is tied with the European entities that colonized the region. In the 1680’s the Dutch East India Company attempted to establish a monopoly on its sale, and to that end prohibited the cultivation of the plant by Cape settlers. But this didn’t work out as they had planned as the ready availability of cannabis in the wild and through trade with the indigenous peoples meant that there was little profit to be made, so the prohibition was lifted in 1700.
More recently, however, there have been landmark decisions made in South African courts that could have huge repercussions for lovers of dagga. In March of 2017, a judged ruled that any law disallowing the use and cultivation of cannabis by an adult in a private dwelling was unconstitutional and therefore invalid, on the grounds that such infringement of the constitutional right to privacy could not be justified.
However, it’s not over yet. This decision must still be confirmed by the Constitutional Court before taking effect, and will then be suspended for 24 months in order to allow parliament to enact legislation in accordance with the ruling. The court also ruled that in the interim, prosecutions related to the transgression of the laws in question should be stayed. Further, the judge ordered it will be deemed to be a defense that the use, possession, purchase or cultivation of cannabis in a private dwelling is for the personal consumption of the adult accused.
In light of this, South Africa is in heavy discussions about cannabis. Most importantly is the fact that cannabis grows well in South Africa. They even have a region known as the dagga belt which spans from the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal. And as it stands, cannabis is considered a traditional crop that sustains entire communities, which would otherwise depend on a subsistence economy.
As a result of recent events, the Cannabis Development Council was formed and they have started to bring cannabis producers together to petition the provincial government of KwaZulu-Natal to permit cultivation of dagga. Making the change over to cannabis could breathe life into struggling farmers livelihoods.
What is being discussed is that local farmers should be able to grow cannabis exclusively for the medical market. And it seems everyone is getting their ducks in a row, as South Africa’s Parliamentary Committee on Health has announced that the Medicines Control Council will be publishing guidelines on the growing and manufacturing of cannabis for medicinal use.
Unfortunately, the only thing required to expedite the process is time. There are certain legal procedures that must be followed if a market for cannabis is going to be created. So South Africans must wait.