how to get them moving again

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In his speech, the President indicated that the government is in the process of addressing the conditions for the growth of the cannabis sector, particularly for rural farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and the Ministry of Health are working closely together to improve existing conditions for hemp and cannabis cultivation to enable outdoor cultivation and harvesting by rural farmers.

Currently, licensed farmers grow their hemp and cannabis indoors under controlled conditions. Commercialization will allow them to grow outdoors on a larger scale.

That is very exciting. The industry has the potential to create jobs, alleviate poverty and help reduce extreme inequality in South Africa. According to one estimate, the sector has the potential to do so Create more than 130,000 new jobs.

The opportunity to commercialize the hemp and cannabis industry is that it is a new, fast-growing, multi-billion dollar sector with both local and international markets. The potential legal medicinal market for hemp and cannabis in South Africa alone was appreciated at over R100 billion per year.

But there are challenges.

First, that the government is failing to implement the necessary changes to ensure the sector grows in ways that benefit communities and rural entrepreneurs and farmers. It’s one thing to add a paragraph each year to the annual State of the Union address dedicated to the cannabis and hemp sector. But seeing action being taken and plans being implemented is another matter.

Second, by mid-2022, smallholders growing cannabis were promised that they would be granted licenses to grow it legally. However, some farmers in rural areas of the Eastern Cape are still waiting.

But there is a way forward. Based on my experience as a member of the Cannabis Organization University of Pretoria As a member of one of the working groups set up to provide input to a government master plan, first produced in 2021, I offer four recommendations to speed up the process.

This includes reviewing and revising the existing master plan, reinstating disbanded working groups, ensuring the plan is in place before investing and establishing a monitoring and evaluation function.

A stalled process

The President mentioned that the government is urgently working to create a conducive regulatory framework for hemp and cannabis crops as it accelerates the commercialization of the sector. This includes their use for complementary medicine, food, cosmetics, as well as some industrial products.

The President said the government urgently needed to complete the work to create this conducive environment.

But some crucial questions need to be answered: What happened to the cannabis master plan working groups and workstreams set up in 2021/2022? These working groups and workstreams consisted of representatives from government, the private sector, academic institutions and the cannabis research community. The groups were off to a good start and were in the process of reviewing and revising a plan to commercialize hemp and cannabis. One of the main goals was to ensure that township entrepreneurs and rural farmers would benefit from any changes.

But working groups collapsed and disappeared without a trace.

The President’s comments therefore raise the question: what happened to the master plan working groups and workflows? If the President is talking about accelerating the commercialization of the cannabis sector, which includes involving rural farmers, how far along is the plan?

The way forward

First, the Presidency must reinstate the Cannabis Master Plan working groups and workflows. They must be given the opportunity to complete the review and revision of the current master plan.

The revised master plan aims to enable the involvement of township entrepreneurs and rural farmers. They are currently barred from the general marketing of hemp and cannabis due to a cumbersome licensing process.

Second, investments in the hemp and cannabis sector should not be implemented until the master plan has been reviewed and revised. This will provide clues on how to properly channel the proposed funds.

The wheel should not be reinvented. Time and effort should not be wasted either.

Third, a monitoring and evaluation committee must be established to oversee the implementation of the hemp and cannabis project. The structure should be analogous to the formation of the working groups with representatives of all interested parties. This ensures that all industry players are involved. And that the funds are spent appropriately.

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