Samantha Enslin-Payne Hey, bro: is legalising weed the way to go?
Just think how large-scale commercial production of cannabis, along with processing, packaging, distribution and retailing, could swell the state’s coffers with additional taxes and create much-needed jobs.
But could legalising marijuana have unintended consequences?
Last week, Zimbabwe decided to allow commercial production of cannabis for medical and research purposes, following Lesotho.
In the US, growing and consuming cannabis for medical and recreational purposes is now allowed in some states.
Is South Africa missing out on a big export opportunity?
Is our cash-strapped government turning a blind eye to a potential source of additional tax?
After all, sin taxes on tobacco and alcohol net the state billions each year, and sales of cannabis oil and lotions could, for example, bring in additional VAT.
In March last year, the High Court in Cape Town ruled that it was permissible to possess, cultivate and use dagga at home, for private use.
The court also ruled that the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act and the Medicines and Related Substances Act need to be amended within two years of the judgment.
But that was not the end of it. The minister of justice and constitutional development, with four other ministers and the NPA, took the matter on appeal to the Constitutional Court, where judgment is now pending.
Even if the Constitutional Court concurs with the judgment, it doesn’t follow that commercial production will ensue.
But should that be the next legal endeavour?
In Zimbabwe, to get a licence to cultivate the plant will reportedly cost $50 000 (about R633 000) and the licence will likely need to be renewed, meaning small growers will be sidelined by those with deep pockets.
Currently, the growing and sale of cannabis in South Africa is mostly the preserve of those who have limited options because of high unemployment.
Legal commercial production in South Africa would push out small producers who are providing much-needed income for their families.
And while those who are unemployed should not have to resort to a risky occupation to make ends meet, in many cases there are just no other options. For example, in rural areas in the Eastern Cape and KWAZULU-NATAL, the expanded unemployment rate is 50% and 41% respectively.
The harvesting, processing, packaging, branding, advertising and retailing of cannabis products could create jobs, but with increasing mechanisation of much of the production chain, perhaps not as many jobs as expected.
If cannabis production was commercialised, for existing growers in South Africa to get consistent yields in order to supply processors for various oils, lotions and other products they would likely require temperature- and light-controlled greenhouses. This requires investment.
So it’s no guess who would be the winners if marijuana was legalised.
But legalising commercial production could have unintended side effects