Medicinal cannabis licences: African farmers, cultural groups want legal right to cash in on 'green gold'

The Black Farmers' Association of SA (Bfasa) and affiliates marched to the offices of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority in Pretoria over the 'exclusion' of indigenous people from being granted medicinal cannabis licences.
The Black Farmers' Association of SA (Bfasa) and affiliates marched to the offices of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority in Pretoria over the 'exclusion' of indigenous people from being granted medicinal cannabis licences.
Image: Shonisani Tshikalange/TimesLIVE

Dagga is the green gold of SA and the country's citizens cannot be denied the right to benefit from its medicinal applications.

This is the view of Thau-Thau Haramanuba, president of the Rastafari United Front, a civil cultural and faith rights organisation. He joined the Black Farmers' Association of SA (Bfasa) and its affiliates on a protest march to the offices of the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) in Pretoria on Thursday.

The organisations were protesting against what they view as the exclusion of indigenous people from being granted medicinal cannabis licences.

“We are here to challenge the 1965 legislation that Sahpra is using to issue licences, which is clearly an apartheid legislation,” Haramanuba said. The Medicines and Related Substances Act gives Sahpra the power to regulate all health products in the country.”

He charged that the legislation was in place to disadvantage poor black people in particular.

“The reality of marijuana is that it is a cash crop, it's the last remaining mineral that hasn't gone underground like gold, coal, copper. It's a natural resource, it's a green gold, a gold of the poor.

“Both the rich and the poor can benefit from it. It will bring our people to the cannabis economy. It will help to open the black cannabis industries and help to decrease the level of poverty and increase the level of employment,” he said.

Bfasa said in a statement that Sahpra's management, allegedly under instruction from health minister Zweli Mkhize, was granting licences to affluent white people and foreign-owned companies without considering indigenous people, monarchs, traditional healers, rural agriculture and Rastafarians.

Dr Lennox Mtshagi, the national president of Bfasa, said among their demands was that all licences issued under the “apartheid law” must be revoked.

Principal chief Fanie, from Zalisidinga African traditional council, said: “We are here to say to Sahpra, bring back what belongs to the people. What we are fighting is the exclusion. People in charge there are taking things which are the rights of the people of the chiefs and use them in their own way.”

Inkhosi Fanie said there were many uses of dagga and people should be given the right to plant it themselves for medicine.

“Dagga is medicine used to heal people and it has many uses. You can make oils and it helps with relief in chest problems. Traditional healers are able to mix it with other mutis and help people to live. We want it to be legal so we can plant it ourselves,” he said.

Sahpra denied these claims on Wednesday, saying it treated “all applicants equally and with respect”.

The authority said it was “concerned” about the inaccuracies of such narratives by Bfasa because they confused the public in what was a complex legal and policy matter.

“The process to obtain a licence from Sahpra to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes is a rigorous one. There needs to be standardisation of the cannabis cultivars and assurance that crops can be grown under conditions of strict security.”

In addition, SA was a signatory to international treaties that prohibit the production and supply of narcotic and psychotropic drugs, including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. “There is a strict process and strict protocols involved and the relevant personnel and committees are tasked with this procedure.”

The authority also rejected the accusation against Mkhize.

“The minister is not involved in any way with Sahpra operational processes, such as the issuance of licences and neither has he issued such a restrictive directive. Sahpra denies this flawed allegation unequivocally,” the regulator said in a statement. 

TimesLIVE

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