In a country where jobs and economic opportunities are scarce and where the economy is sluggish; a country facing an uncertain power supply that further erodes any short to medium term economic growth, President Jacob Zuma’s government can ill afford to disregard new industries. The opportunity presented by the regulation of cannabis production and the decriminalisation of its use in the country cannot be ignored. This calls for decisive leadership that will place South Africa in the forefront of this green tide on the right side of history.
There are positive signs regarding the legalisation of medicinal cannabis use in the country. A bill proposing the legalisation of medicinal cannabis is under-going parliamentary processes.
While commendable, this action does not nearly go as far as it should. About 19 countries have decriminalised cannabis for recreational use e.g. the Czech Republic. On this list are also countries that are leading the battle for a paradigm shift away from the largely ineffective “War on Drugs” in the Americas such as Ecuador. Even a country such as Jamaica which although is seen by many as the spiritual home of “Ganja” and curiously (and in the usual self-depreciating and self-denying manner of the previously colonised) had some of the harshest laws prohibiting the use of cannabis, has finally seen the green light.
Most of these countries are reaping economic benefit from new revenue streams that have opened up due to the decriminalisation of pot. The positive results in tax revenue collection, tourism and job creation are well publicized, none more so than the state of Colorado in the United States which in 2012 passed Amendment 64 to alter the state’s constitution while enacting a new drug policy for cannabis. The dollars are rolling in.
South Africa must seize the opportunity to lead the Cannabis revolution in the continent of Africa.
The benefits of a legal dispensation regarding the use of cannabis should not be limited to the medicinal and industrial sectors. The decriminalisation of cannabis and the regulation of the plant’s production would yield far more positive results for the country. Some of these are:
1. The Government would save money
The Anti-Drug Alliance of South Africa conducted a study where drugs related crimes were tracked in the province of Gauteng over a two month period.¹ Its findings were unequivocal: the current regime of prohibition as a strategy in the war against drugs has been a dismal failure. The study found that the Gauteng government was spending R245 Million ($20 Million) annually to keep drug convicts in jail. Over the period, 23 000 drug possession arrests were made in Gauteng, about 5000 of these were cannabis related. The study concludes by calling for a fundamental shift in approach of all illicit drug related policies in South Africa.
2. No link to an increased crime rate
The Denver Police Department in Colorado reported a 6.9% reduction of violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) in the first quarter of 2014 compared to a similar period in 2013. In a study²conducted by the University of Texas and published in the journal PLOS ONE this reduction trend was further demonstrated. It proves difficult to find studies that link the decriminalisation of cannabis to increase in crime. This might be because there is no link.
3. Marijuana is not a “Gateway Drug”
Numerous studies have debunked the theory that marijuana is a gateway drug. Even common sense demonstrates the scientific bankruptcy of the idea…. Studies state that about 8% of South Africa’s population uses cannabis regularly. If the theory that Cannabis is a gateway drug holds then at least close to 8% of South Africa’s population should be using hard drugs. The evidence proves otherwise.
Miriam Boeri, writing for Newsweek gives more plausible reasons why people use hard drugs such as: association with people who use hard drugs, certain mental illnesses: such as antisocial personality and bipolar disorder and concludes that other research notes that criminalization and prohibition are real gateways to harder drugs.”³
4. Tax Revenue
If the country were to regulate the production of Cannabis, the most immediate benefit will be an increase in tax revenue. Although the data of current production levels of cannabis in South Africa is vague, one could easily conclude that it is substantial, this based on anecdotal evidence that South African cannabis strains are popular the world over e.g. Durban Poison, Swazi etc. This fact, combined with a healthy supply at home paints a picture of a thriving industry. And lost tax Rands.
South Africa universities and other research institutes have an opportunity to lead in the field of cannabis research and study. A population with 8% cannabis users makes a perfect study sample group to test the effect of the decriminalisation of cannabis (whether negative or positive) on all aspects of societal life. More research and study result in scientific based policies to govern new approaches.
6. Job Creation
In year one of Colorado’s decriminalisation and regulation of Cannabis more than 10 000 jobs were created, according to the Marijuana Industry Group. The South African government must ensure that that whichever regulation mechanism is adopted explicitly favours small growers. This would have a transformative effect on the struggling SMME sector. Many existing industries would also benefit from a new regime; tourism being the most obvious. New industries that process by-products of the plant such as hemp goods, manufacturing and bio-fuels would also be created.
South Africa has demonstrated bold and decisive leadership in the past. Long before any African state and many western countries even considered equal rights for all married couples regardless of their sexual orientation, South Africa did so in 2005 and passed the Civil Union Act in 2006. We were the first country in Africa, the fifth country in the world and the second outside Europe to do so. No reason why we cannot do it again.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, a quote oft attributed to Einstein - which sadly seems to be an accurate description of the state of the War on Drugs, a war in which the South African government happily participates with conviction but without full comprehension.
@cultureactiv - Contributor
1. “At what cost: the futility of the war on drugs in South Africa”, 2013 by Van Kreken, Anti Drug Alliance
2. “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data”, 1990-2006 by Morris et al.
3. “Aggressive Crime, Alcohol and Drug Use, and Concentrated Poverty in 24 U.S. Urban Areas”, 2007 by Valdez et al.