The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) will present its submission on the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill at 10h30 tomorrow, 31 August 2021 to the Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. The Bill is a welcome step forward to ensure compliance with the Constitutional Court directive that personal possession and consumption of cannabis should no longer be criminalised. The provisions of the Bill to effect this, and to provide for the expungement of criminal records for such cases is positive.
Whilst drugs, including cannabis, have been criminalised by governments across the world given the negative impact, they have on consumers’ health, it has not helped to address the problems of substance abuse. In fact, it has worsened it. It has driven such trade into the arms of violent gangs and criminal syndicates. It has not collapsed demand. It has meant addicts spend more of their money on a now inflated product. Gangs have waged bloody wars that have cost the lives of countless young people across South Africa’s townships. This approach has not delivered and a more creative one is needed.
Decriminalising the cannabis sector may be a step forward in removing this industry from the control of criminal syndicates. It should help collapse the monopoly and exorbitant prices imposed on addicts that fuel gangs. It will enable the South African Police Service to focus on arresting the traffickers and not the addicts.
The cannabis industry itself has many potential opportunities for the economy. These include its positive contributions for medicinal, clothing, and industrial uses. It is an emerging industry internationally. If South Africa does not move to manage it, it will simply be displaced by cheap imports from other countries.
COSATU is concerned however that government does not appear to have a single position on the way forward. The Bill speaks to decriminalising personal use of small amounts. The Department of Health is processing approval for its medicinal uses. The Departments of Trade, Industry and Competition as well as Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform are working on a developing a Hemp Master Plan to support its industrial uses. The Master Plan cannot work if the Bill will continue to criminalise possession and development beyond minor personal uses. If government wants to nurture the industry’s growth and to ensure that its products are used for the benefit of society, then it needs to speak with one voice and not send a myriad of mixed messages.
Issued by COSATU.
For further information please contact Tony Ehrenreich at 082 773 3194 or Matthew Parks at 082 785 0687.