When it comes to the cannabis industry, the African continent lags behind most other continents, which is due to a variety of reasons. Historically, countries in Africa have taken a harsher stance when it comes to cannabis policy compared to countries in other parts of the world. However, one country, South Africa, is set to ramp up a robust legal cannabis industry in the coming years and recently moved one step closer to that goal after unveiling a $1.9 billion plan.
In late 2018, South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled that prohibitions on personal consumption of cannabis in a private setting were unconstitutional. It was a landmark ruling that was understandably cheered by cannabis enthusiasts in South Africa and beyond. A similar court decision was later handed down in Mexico and Italy, although the court decision in South Africa did not seem to receive as much fanfare within the international cannabis community for some reason.
The 2018 decision in South Africa was truly historic, and somewhat made South Africa a legalized nation. The decision is obviously not the same as legislation being passed and a robust industry being authorized, however, it does provide some legal protections for adult-use cannabis consumers in some instances.
A Roadmap For A Legalized Industry
Legalizing cannabis for adult use in a private setting is a great move, although it does not go far enough. A legalization model is only as good as the amount of safe access to cannabis it provides to consumers and patients. Consumers and patients in South Africa deserve to have a robust legal industry so that they can legally and safely obtain regulated cannabis that they will later consume, in addition to being able to cultivate their own cannabis should they choose to do so.
South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has conducted research for the last two years to help craft a plan to implement a legal adult-use industry in South Africa. Part of the research involved examining cannabis policies in China, the United States, Canada, and Mexico to see if any lessons could be learned. As of right now, only Canada and Uruguay have legalized cannabis for adult-use and implemented a large-scale adult-use industry.
The Department recently released its research findings and ‘master plan’ to lawmakers in South Africa via a written document and formal presentation. According to the Department’s research and master plan South Africa’s legalized adult-use and medical cannabis industries could be worth a combined 28 billion rand ($1.9 billion USD) annually when the master plan is implemented. The legalized industry is also projected to create over 25,000 jobs in South Africa.
A Much Needed Economic Boost
The main benefit of cannabis legalization in any country is that people will no longer be penalized for consuming a plant that is much safer than alcohol. Cannabis prohibition is a failed, harmful public policy by every measure, and ending it is always important. We must never lose sight of that fact.
A legalized, regulated cannabis industry is also important, albeit secondary to ending penalties for consumers. The cannabis industry has the ability to create jobs, boost local economies, and generate tax revenues and fees at the local and national level. All of those are things that jurisdictions at all levels need more of, especially in rural jurisdictions where creating new industries is much more difficult.
If South Africa can beat other African nations to the punch, it will set the country up for financial success for generations. That will be particularly true if South Africa can also beat other countries on other continents in implementing a legalized industry. Only time will tell if South Africa can be efficient at implementing the new plan, or if the effort will experience a series of setbacks similar to what has gone on in Mexico in recent years.
Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference. Upcoming conferences include Berlin (August 25-27), Zurich (August 31-September 1), and Barcelona (October 7).