South Africa reschedules CBD & THC, but opens a narrow window

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The South African government has rescheduled CBD and THC, amending previous drug laws to open up the cannabinoid economy. The rescheduling has been welcome progress for the country’s industry, though the scheduling of CBD means that even the smallest players would now have to comply with pharmaceutical and medical legislation and regulatory requirements.

The country has also exempted industrial hemp from medical control, though the THC limit, set at just 0.2%, surprised many.

South Africa said earlier in the year that new cannabis legislation would be released in April 2020, but as elsewhere in the world, the Covid19 pandemic has seen the country in a “lockdown” since March, stalling progress until recently. 


The notice, signed by the South African Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, was published a week after a CBD moratorium expired. The 12-month moratorium permitted the sale of certain CBD products within set parameters. Now, CBD has been scheduled using a two pronged approach: Its default scheduling is as a prescription only medication (Schedule 4), except when in pack sizes containing 600mg or less of CBD and limited to maximum dose of 20mg/day, where it would then be regulated as a supplement on schedule 0.

“Schedule 0” is a class that includes many off-shelf medicines such as aspirin and supplements such as vitamins. This scheduling means that only GMP-produced products will be allowed, and only when the producers are registered as medicines manufacturers and the products themselves registered through the South African Health Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

“They’re clearly going to come down hard on CBD, it’s very dangerous for players in the CBD space,” said Ricky Stone, a legal expert for the cannabis industry.

‘Whole plant or any portion’

Though he has reservations about the scheduling approach government chose, Stone is optimistic about other parts of the rescheduling. “The main positive is obviously that cannabis, as a plant, has been removed from the Medicine’s Act. The entire entry of cannabis has been omitted from Schedule 7.

Schedule 7 is reserved for strictly controlled substances, and hemp’s inclusion has often been the greatest hurdle in the path of research, agricultural trials and hemp business in the country, where stakeholders have been trying to establish a hemp industry since 1996. Now, the government seems to be taking a new approach.

“It’s in preparation of moving cannabis to the Department of Agriculture, who will then regulate it as an agricultural crop. That’s a huge move forward,” Stone said.


The rescheduling of THC opens up the potential for a medical cannabis industry in South Africa. It also exempts industrial hemp from the schedules, but sets the limit for this exemption at 0.2%, copying the contentious EU limits (themselves expected to be returned to a previously in effect limit of 0.3% this year).

Processed products, on the other hand, have a THC limit set at only 0.001%, whether for fibre or food.

Industrial cannabis

Clarification on where the new scheduling leaves industrial hemp is expected from South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, but Stone’s opinion is that the government is readying to regulate Cannabis from an end-use perspective, a move stakeholders hope will free industrial hemp production from the yoke of pharmaceutical and medicinal laws.

But of course, the low THC limit defined in the rescheduling is already expected to be problematic for the South African industry, who see a different approach to industrial cannabis.

“Biomass has to be completely lawful, to make use of the economic opportunities, especially in the rural areas,” Stone said.

Narrow window

Like Stone, many stakeholders are of the opinion that a low THC limit, if enforced and not adjusted, would further impede efforts to establish the hemp industry in South Africa. There aren’t many varieties of hemp that are suited to the latitude and climates of South Africa, and that would keep to these ultra-low limits implied in the gazette, a fact other African nations have considered (Malawi, for example, one of the most conservative nations on the continent, set the limit at a full 1.0% THC.

It would also exclude the lowest hanging fruit for the local hemp industry: using the sturdy native landraces as industrial raw material and an economic tool to uplift the rural poor, and providing a new market for the vast numbers of traditional cannabis farmers and budding entrepreneurs set to benefit from South Africa’s new approach to the hemp plant.

– Arne Verhoef

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