Cannabis Conference 2019

For decades, the growth and use of cannabis (also known as marijuana, weed, pot, dagga) for either recreational and/or medicinal purposes remained prohibited in almost every part of the world. Despite its illegality, marijuana use has been fairly common as it remained one of the most popular illegal drugs used in the world. Only most recently have some countries (Canada, Switzerland, Peru, Portugal, Italy etc.) decriminalised cannabis use, with others restricting its use for medicinal purposes only (Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Greece etc.). Most African countries have remained adamant to decriminalise the use of cannabis, except for Lesotho and Zimbabwe which recently legalised growth of marijuana for medicinal use. It was only last year on the 18th of September when the South African constitutional court legalised adult use of cannabis in private and growing enough for personal consumption.

Many celebrated this long awaited court’s decision such that a competition titled “Bushmastery” was launched from January to May2019, offering R1000 cash to anyone who can grow the biggest cannabis plant in the country. One could argue that this may be a strategy to encourage cannabis growers to venture into the burgeoning global cannabis industry. South Africa is amongst the very first few African countries to legalise marijuana use even though its usage is limited to the private sphere. What are the implications of this legalisation of marijuana for the country?

The cannabis plant is known to possess significant medicinal properties and health benefits, therefore, this is another interesting avenue to be explored at this upcoming conference. But then, although private personal consumption of cannabis was legalised, smoking it in public and trading the plant (buying and selling) remains illegal. Yet commercialisation of the crop could actually help to boost the country’s economy considering the booming global cannabis market. The American cannabis analytics company New Frontier Data suggested that legal cannabis could generate almost $132 billion in federal tax revenue by 2025 in the United States (Washington Post). 80 000 new jobs were created in the American state of California alone due to cannabis sales. So what can South Africa learn from this? According to analytical strategy development professional Vladislav Lakcevic in his MBA thesis, legalising cannabis in South Africa will likely result in increased tax revenue coupled with decreased government expenditure on law enforcement. Interestingly, despite actively enforced prohibition, South Africa is said to be a major producer and global supplier of cannabis (United Nations office on drugs). Would it be possible to legalise the trading of cannabis and then come up with an authentic framework to regulate the industry which could generate billions for the country?