South Africa’s Heritage Gift – Cannabis

Cannabis is a plant that has existed for over 4,000 years with medicinal and spiritual uses. Growers in Pondoland in the Eastern Cape have grown cannabis for over 200 years. The Initial legislation banning cannabis was first introduced in 1870. In 1910, after South Africa was established as a union, cannabis was banned in broader South Africa but was allowed in the native homelands. This included the growing and distribution of cannabis. The intention was to keep cannabis and its impurities from white South Africans.
Cannabis enjoyed a deep pre-colonial history of use in southeastern Africa, adopted into indigenous communities some centuries ago through continental circulations and the Indian Ocean trade. The multiple social and economic meanings of dagga were dramatically transformed through European settlement, conquest, and political incorporation.
Anglophone settlers arrived in South Africa without cannabis traditions of their own. For early 20th century government administrators, it is clear that the question of how to govern dagga was very much a question of how to govern colonial subjects.
In 1948, before Apartheid formally began, given the increased cannabis seizures, the United Party government requested that an interdepartmental committee be convened to investigate Dagga abuse as a “special social problem.” A report was generated, and the government created squads to investigate and destroy operations with alleged cannabis cultivation.
In 1951, the South African government’s obsession with cannabis usage culminated in the ‘Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Abuse Of Dagga’. A report that was largely rooted in pseudo science eventually resulted in South Africa ratifying the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Drugs. This resulted in the ‘Abuse of Dependence Producing Substances and Rehabilitation Centres Act of 1971’, this included the banning of cannabis across South Africa and included homelands.
Such policies continued well into the 1980s and 1990s. In 1994, the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act was signed into law and included cannabis and its criminalisation which worsened the legacy of cannabis criminalisation from colonial rule and apartheid.
A 2012 report from the South African Department of Social development identified cannabis as the second most commonly used substance behind alcohol and reported that 3.2 million people used cannabis in 2008.
Fast forward to September 2017. Under the 2017 amendment to the Medicines Act, people in South Africa can purchase and use cannabis for medical purposes with a permit from a practitioner. They can also apply to import and distribute cannabis-containing medicines.  In a ground-breaking move, in 2018 the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that the prohibition of the personal use and cultivation of cannabis, by adults, in private spaces is unconstitutional.
CBD is listed as a Schedule 4 substance. Certain CBD preparations have been excluded from the operation of the Schedules by the Minister of Health for a time-limited period, as per an exclusion notice (R.756) published in Government Gazette No.42477 on 23 May 2019.
In 2022 it has been well established the hemp and cannabis sector has the potential to create more than 130 000 new jobs, therefore the regulatory processes are being streamlined to ensure the industry thrives.
Cannabis is undeniably one of South Africa’s strongest Heritage gifts, uniting, building and advancing us into a stronger Nation.
Fun Fact:“Dacha” is the original name the Khoi used for Cannabis, of which the earliest recorded trade in Cannabis dates back to 1668, long before prohibition, which is in direct conflict with the Khoi, San and other indigenous people of Southern Africa’s right to practice their tradition.
Happy Heritage Day for The Cannabis Institute Team!
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