Eastern Cape government gives the go-ahead to launch cannabis college

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A surge of “green” jobs could soon be emerging throughout Eastern Cape, South Africa. The news comes following the approval of a cannabis college by the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform. Approval means that construction of the educational institution can now commence.

South Africa’s cannabis college is expected to be located in the Ingquza Hill Local Municipality in Lusikisiki — a town with pristine conditions for growing weed. Farmers in the region will be educated on the basics of cannabis cultivation, fertilization, seeding and distribution. 

“The Eastern Cape is constantly searching for ideas and ways on how to contribute to the growth of domestic product of the province,” said the MEC for the Department, Nomakhosazana Meth. “Lusikisiki is known to be ‘the world’s capital of cannabis’ and this is a very important industry, so we need to exploit it in our province. We want to make sure we embrace cannabis for medical and commercial purposes.”

According to Meth, the government has changed its opinion on the plant since the Constitutional Court legalized it for personal consumption in 2018. She feels confident that South Africa’s cannabis college could be fully functioning within as little as a year; describing the plant as “green gold.” 

“We must be pushing the government to say that we are ready,” she added. 

Private cultivation, consumption and possession of cannabis in South Africa was legalized in 2018

Although the public buying and selling of cannabis remains illegal in South Africa, the country still churns out 2,300 tons of the plant on an annual basis; making it Africa’s third-largest producer. Two years ago, the Constitutional Court made a unanimous decision to decriminalize private cannabis consumption, possession and cultivation. Now, the government must hash out legislation in accordance with the Constitution; the deadline for this is September 2020.

Cannabis decriminalization in South Africa has demonstrated that consumers are plentiful in the country, which is home to 56 million people. A noticeable increase in the manufacturing, sale and import of non-THC containing cannabis products has been acknowledged by industry analysts. A contributing factor for increasing demand was a 12-month exemption – valid until May 2020 – that descheduled cannabis-containing health supplements. 

Realistically, the South African government could be leaving a great deal of money on the table if it doesn’t fully immerse itself in the flourishing legal weed landscape. After all, the country’s climate and fertile soils are a haven for growing quality plants; particularly so in provinces like KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. Then again, innovations in hydroponics and lighting equipment means that cannabis cultivation can be executed to a high standard pretty much anywhere around the world nowadays.

Experts want cannabis in South Africa to be reclassified as agricultural crop

Known as “dagga”, cannabis in South Africa is still attached with a negative stigma following years of prohibition. If the cannabis industry in South Africa is to successfully take-off and the economic rewards reaped by the government, experts say that the plant should first be reclassified as an agricultural crop. By doing so, the plant’s reputation can be rebuilt.

Agricultural economists are encouraging the government to initiate a clear licensing regime for the production of industrial hemp and cannabis to be sold inside licensed dispensaries. One of the recommendations involves the designation of a single authority to award cannabis licenses in South Africa.

“This would mean recognition of cannabis as an agricultural crop through rescheduling, as well as a key ingredient in medical use. It is important that South Africa has a simple, clear and predictable licensing regime that is aimed at promoting economic growth, competitiveness and economic inclusion,” said chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA, Wandile Sihlobo

On the other hand, many people believe that the rescheduling of cannabis in South Africa will be met with opposition from retailers, faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations that maintain a prohibitionist opinion on the plant. Further education is required to reassure anti-pot South Africans that cannabis is not necessarily a gateway to other harder drug use. Moreover, it should be proven that the social benefits will overshadow the costs.