Call for government to expedite cannabis legislation to unlock investment

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH Sinenhlanhla Mnguni Chairperson of a new cannabis association,

By Edward Tsumele, Cannabis Business Africa/CBA Editor

There is no going back when it comes to growing the new cannabis industry in South Africa, even though the pace of formalizing the industry from a legislative point of view, is proceeding frustratingly slow. Investors  are however ready to take on opportunities in the sector, but are being held back by the legal processes that the South African government together with stakeholders,  are currently processing.

These are the views of many in the emerging cannabis industry, including entrepreneurs and industry associations who are eager to engage with government in order to quicken the issue of cannabis regulations.

One such association, which has just been launched and is ready and eager to engage with government in the interest of its membership is newly launched Fair Trade Independent Cannabis Association (FICA), which was launched on August 27, and has already started engaging with authorities.

CBA, this week had an exclusive interview with its chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, an attorney by training, who said that their priorities is to engage with government on issues of legislation, which like many others, his association feels, is not engaging enough with experts and cannabis entrepreneurs to assist in quickening  the formalization of the industry in general and shaping  the cannabis legislation in particular.

“Our members feel that the pace of legislation process is slow, and this makes it difficult for cannabis entrepreneurs to plan. Investors have also adopted R wait and see attitude as they are not sure what form or shape the new legal framework regulating the industry will take,” he said.

Soon after its formation, FICA held a meeting with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, (ASHPRA) and Mnguni said as an association they will also soon request meetings  with other government departments dealing with the issue of cannabis formalization to see If they cannot assist.

Mnguni however did not divulge the nature nor the outcome of his association’s engagement with SAHPRA. SAHPRA under the department of Health is in charge of issuing cannabis licenses in the country, but that may change soon as the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development will from next month, October 2021,  open a call for those looking for a  hemp license (a part of  the cannabis family of plants with low THC) to apply to it directly instead of to SAHPRA, as is currently the case. The process of applying for a license from SAHPRA is a complicated and expensive process that has left many a cannabis entrepreneur frustrated.

“As an industry, we are also prepared to come up with solutions to assist government with regards to policy formulation as we cannot expect the government to do everything in the industry in which we operate.,” Mnguni said.

So far Fica has eight members who are growers , some with licenses already, and they are scattered around the country.

Sinenhlanhla Mnguni Chairperson of a new cannabis association, FICA

“Currently we have the first tier of members who are growers, and soon we will be looking forward to getting more members on board in the other tiers of membership, such as distributors, processors, cultivators and indigenous cannabis farmers. There is a need to get indigenous cannabis farmers into the formal cannabis business in a realistic sense, because as an association, we would not like to see a situation where these farmers are left out, or are brought in as window dressers.

“This is quite important because we know the history of the economy, which is steeped in economic inequalities. It is something that cannot be ignored as we grow this new industry. With unemployment rate standing at 34 %, and among the youth even higher, cannabis has the potential to transform the South African economy,” he said.

Mnguni added that the issue of recreational use of cannabis, where the majority of the illicit cannabis market is located  in South Africa should not be ignored in the current discourse on cannabis legal reforms. In fact more than 900 000 indigenous farmers are located within this category of the cannabis industry, and yet this category seems to be left out of the current cannabis conversation.

“There is definitely a need for government to engage more with the industry than is currently the case. These indigenous farmers with immense knowledge of some strains of cannabis need to be brought in into the conversation, and ultimately a way needs to be explored to bring them into the formal legal economy to avoid a situation of the possible continuation of an illicit cannabis market operating alongside a formal legal market,” he said and offered that his association is ready and willing to engage with government towards coming up with a solution.

This week, the Cannabis for Private Purpose Bill was put before Parliament, whereby cannabis stakeholders were afforded an opportunity to make representation, and several of them have sent their input.

“Our members as individual licensed growers have sent representation to Parliament about their concern about this Bill, especially when it comes to the commercial part of the plant, over which the Billi is silent,” Mnguni said.

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