Hemp licences in October, but entrepreneurs need to lobby for practical THC threshold

By Edward Tsumele, Cannabis Business Africa/CBA Editor

The count down has started for the government to give its first hemp farming licenses to qualifying cannabis entrepreneurs. Surely this is both anxiety and excitement among cannabis entrepreneurs, especially those aiming at grabbing one of these licenses to start the actual work of farming hemp.

Hemp is a low THC plant in the family of the cannabis plant and from the look of things, government seems to be very much in favour of this type of business undertaking in the emerging cannabis industry for several reasons. One reason is the potential for creating employment for masses of unemployed people in the value chain of hemp, such as rural farmers. Another reason seems to be the fact that unlike the other type of the cannabis applications, such as medical cannabis and recreational cannabis, hemp farming should be easier to control from a law enforcement point of view. Sort of, somehow.

For example although hemp generally has a low THC, it is easy to then test the yield before allowing it to go through the manufacturing process to ascertain  its compliance with the law before allowing it to proceed to the manufacturing stage. If the crop fails this crucial text, it can then be destroyed. Unfortunately a farmer whose crop has failed and has been destroyed will have to deal with the loss. However if the crop passes, hen it gets the green light to move into the next stage with the farmer poised to get his investment back and profit such as it is turned into several applications, such as extracting CBD, seeds crushed into oil, the plant tuned into fibre to produce other useful products such as cnstruction material, textiles, ink, paper, and biodegradable plastics. It is therefore obvious why the South African government is prioritising commercial hemp as many people are bound to be employed at certain chains of hemp’s application.

In addition, hemp produced at a larger scale will assist immensely mitigating the issue of global warming. This is because the hemp plants roots absorbs a lot of carbon dioxide and it also absorbs a lot of toxins from the soil, literally cleaning the soil for humanity. Can you imagine what would happen to the mining dumps scattered around Johannesburg, the legacy of its mining history If the cannabis plant is planted at such spaces, particularly because of the ability of the hemp taproots in uranium uptake from contaminated mining soil planted with a hemp to absorb toxins, such as uranium.

And the good thing is hemp can also be farmed in rotation with other traditional crops, and this is important in especially maintaining quality soil as it builds its carbon capturing qualities. And cover crops, can sequester an average of 425 to 1,584 pounds of atmospheric carbon per acre per year, according to a University of South Carolina study.

All this points to hemp standing a good chance of transforming society. However there are certain issues that must be overcome before those standing to get licenses start celebrating. For example,

For example, If the legal level of THC content that the government will set to classify a certain commercial activity in the cannabis industry as hemp farming is too restrictive, it my be impossible and impractical for farmers to qualify as hemp farmers.

The case in point is the current complaints by America’s 21 496 hemp farmers where hemp farming has been legal at federal level since 2018, who are saying the threshold of 0.3% THC is simply too low as many of them are struggling to keep the plant’s THC level within the legal limit of 0,3%, due to certain scientific reasons, such as the local conditions of the soil. Psychoactive cannabis typically contains at least 15% and usually more, making the 0.3% of maximum THC level simply unworkable for some farmers there. They are calling for government to increase the level to a maximum of 1% THC.

It will be therefore interesting to see how policy makers, who are currently scrutinisng and fine-tuning the Cannabis national Master Plan at Nedlac will come up with for South African farmers with regards to the maximum level of THC that will be allowable under the law when the first batch of hemp farming licenses will be dished out in October this year.

It is therefore important that cannabis representatives sitting at the negotiation table at Nedlac must lobby with this issue in mind, otherwise they will find themselves with licenses that not allow them to farm hemp after all, especially If the level of THC in the hemp plant allowable by law is too restrictive. It must be at least 1% as the lessons emanating from farmers in the US farmers tell us. This is where government policy makers do not need to invent a new wheel, but can simply copy and paste from international standards and lessons.

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