South Africa poised for bhang trade despite obstacles

2018 has been called the “year for cannabis” in South Africa. But there are still hurdles before a legal marijuana industry can flourish in an African economic power deemed ideal for large-scale cultivation.

Advocates rejoiced at a Constitutional Court decision in September that upheld the legalisation of the adult use and cultivation of pot in private. A cannabis expo in the capital Pretoria this month was Africa’s first, organisers said.

However, buying and selling cannabis for recreational reasons remains illegal, and an onerous licensing process has held up the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana.

Although the cannabis plant was barred from the expo for traders and consumers, the packed event reflected the view that cannabis has big business potential, particularly for export.

As visitors learned about growing techniques and equipment, and cannabis-related products, promoters noted big consumer markets in Europe as well as Canada’s legalisation of recreational marijuana this year and a similar trend at the state level in the United States.

“Gone are the days of the stigma of the lazy stoner, sitting at home,” said Andrew Lawrie of Schindlers Attorneys, a South African firm that has a department dedicated to cannabis law. “They are around, but now we’re talking about industry, we’re talking about corporations, we’re talking about tax.”

Some industry pioneers could still face the risk of criminal liability as they await the South African parliament’s expected move to bring cannabis laws into line with the Constitutional Court ruling, Mr Lawrie said in an interview.

At the expo, he and a colleague handed out packs of rolling papers emblazoned with the slogan “Rolling In Style” and the name of their law firm. Elsewhere, “Canna-Cocktails” were on sale and Mango Monkey lip butter was on show. Companies including House of Hemp had displays.

Expo director Silas Howarth said there was already “a healthy, strong, legal industry” in cannabis-related products in South Africa, including an energy drink and a beer (Durban Poison, named after a cannabis strain) that use hemp seed oil in production and lack THC, the plant’s main psychoactive component. Some traditional healers use cannabis in treatments.

The growth potential for South Africa as a cannabis industry provider could be “massive” as the global market for medical cannabis expands and laws on recreational use loosen, Howarth said.

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