‘Cannabis college’ mooted for Eastern Cape
Could the Eastern Cape become the first province in SA to have a “cannabis college”?
If the Eastern Cape provincial government gets its way, most certainly.
But first, there is a lot of red tape to untangle and laws that will need changing, experts say.
It emerged this week that the provincial government was mulling over the idea of converting the old Lusikisiki teacher training college into a “cannabis college”.
However, experts say much needs to happen before this dream is realised, such as creating policies and legalising cannabis, because the plant is still included in the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 1992 as a series one drug — the same bracket as heroin.
Rural development and agrarian reform spokesperson Ayongenzwa Lungisa said the idea came about after a trip taken by a delegation to Canada in October 2018.
Canada legalised cannabis in that month and the country saw a spike in job listings in the industry.
Lungisa said rural development and agrarian reform MEC Nomakhosazana Meth had presented a plan to the provincial cabinet earlier this week.
“We’re looking at how much the college would cost and how much the provincial government would have to put in.
“This is one way of aggressively taking charge of the potential the cannabis industry can bring for the province, because it’s not just about cultivation but manufacturing as well, and teaching people skills.
“One thing we did not forget was that cannabis in SA can only be used for research in a limited way for medicinal purposes.
“The MEC has the support of the premier to even get into the health sector and persuade different bodies to allow that process, because there is a lot of potential if we could get assistance,” Lungisa said.
He said there were no time frames as to when the college might open as discussions were still at a very early stage.
In 2018, the Constitutional Court decriminalised the private possession, use and cultivation of cannabis.
Parliament is yet to make the legislative adjustments to accommodate this move and selling cannabis at any scale remains, for the most part, illegal.
Cannabis activist and one half of “The Dagga Couple”, Jules Stobbs, commended the provincial government for even talking about a cannabis school.
He said the Eastern Cape government had shown itself to be the most progressive in the country.
However, he questioned the reasoning behind opening a “cannabis college” and suggested a model be integrated into existing agricultural schools in the country and province.
“All you need is for cannabis to be part of the curriculum in an agricultural environment.
“There’s nothing different about weed; it’s just a commodity, a plant.
“We think instead of spending a lot of money refurbishing a building to bring it up to be a college, why don’t you incorporate cannabis learning modules, of which there are many, into a regular agricultural diploma,” he said.
Stobbs also questioned what would be done at the colleges as cannabis was still illegal in SA.
“There is no industry.
“What are you going to do, how long is it going to be, what is the diploma and who is going to grow it, because the cops are going to come around and arrest you because it’s still illegal.
“It’s a great sentiment; we think it’s super cool that someone would even think of a cannabis college because five years ago nobody would’ve thought of that.
“There’s progress,” Stobbs said.
Agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo said more pressure should be put on the government to strengthen policy, and set up regulation and production conditions.
“Setting up the policy because, as we speak now, cannabis is still regarded as a drug — not yet as a plant.
“So, working on the regulation and reclassifying it as an agricultural crop, and also setting up the policy of how to go about the production as well as trading it.
“Also, on the taxation side, we say we can get tax from these businesses, but we haven’t thoroughly considered how that would take place.
“Testing, compliance issues — even on the production and the cultivation side — and more and more education is needed,” Sihlobo said.
He said economic benefits and job creation could definitely result from the cannabis industry, especially in the Eastern Cape.
However, he cautioned that small-scale farmers should not be excluded from the industry.
“Last year and the year before that, in SA we wrote and talked a lot about the possibility in terms of jobs, but not about what needs to be done in putting the regulations in place.
“Right now, for example, for all of those who are getting licences [to legally grow and produce medical products], prices range around R300,000.
“With those prices, to acquire licences small-scale farmers in the Eastern Cape would be excluded from the market,” Sihlobo said.