An open letter to the South African constitutional court, endorsed by several SA cannabis NGO’s and businesses, has bemoaned the lack of progress and missed opportunities in establishing a viable hemp industry in the country. This despite “research trials” having been undertaken since 1998, and despite the fact that legalization of the crop presents a unique ability to address many of the social ills that plague the country, including a clogged criminal justice system, struggling economy and notoriously high levels of unemployment.
South Africa is unique in that it is fighting cannabis prohibition via the country’s strong constitution. Several high profile court cases have and are taking place, including a high court judgment made in March 2017, that deemed the infringements on privacy and freedom of current cannabis prohibition laws unconstitutional. Despite this finding, more than 180,000 South Africans have been arrested for cannabis possession, cultivation or consumption since the court judgment, according to some estimates.
Strategy is drag on law enforcement
The open letter presents an overview of cannabis in the criminal justice system, and shows how cannabis legalization could relieve some of the pressure on the courts, freeing up police resources to focus on serious crimes. It also alludes to developments in other sub-Saharan countries and international hemp trends, and describes the state of medical hemp in SA.
The letter details the massive opportunity presented by industrial hemp to the South African economy – in revitalizing agriculture, promoting industry, alleviating poverty and social inequality, to eventually meet the SA government’s own National Development Plan.
Cannabis opportunities missed
According to the plan, South Africa “can realize these goals by drawing on the energies of its people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society” and according to the open letter, efficient and inclusive regulation of cannabis will go a long way in achieving these lofty goals.
Despite the legal challenges and court judgments, and the fact that cannabis was a traditional crop already pre-Apartheid era, South African police are still targeting cannabis with an iron fist.
Spraying of carcinogens endangers health
One example is the several million Rands the South African Police Service is spending every year in communities that cultivate cannabis in the Eastern Cape. Police helicopters are deployed en masse to spray glyphosate herbicide, increasingly recognized as a carcinogen, over landrace cannabis crops. Human rights campaigners have bemoaned the indiscriminate nature of this chemical onslaught, with the helicopters dousing houses, livestock, other crops and even people too. Yet it is exactly in these traditional cannabis-growing regions that the crop can serve as a savior, with the potential to uplift these underdeveloped, rural and impoverished communities.
Hell-bent on prohibition
The South African government, and their police force, are seemingly hell-bent on pursuing their failed prohibition policy until the end, but ultimately it is up to the courts to decide the eventual outcome and legal framework for hemp in South Africa.
Hopefully, if their constitution is as strong as its touted to be, South Africa can “start afresh with regulations based on science, rationality and modern knowledge — for the empowerment and upliftment of all our people.”
– Arne Verhoef