Updated: Feb 9
The Transkei was more rural and known for growing illegal marijuana. That's where the name Transkei gold is said to originate. The potential for legal and profitable marijuana growth in the Eastern Cape is what diamonds are to the Northern Cape and gold to Gauteng.
But unlike mining, growing marijuana is not an extractive business, it does not damage the soil and would not require new farming methods to rehabilitate the land.
Eastern Cape has a lot of unemployed skilled labour who have the ability to transform marijuana farming into an international multi-billion rand industry. Pharmacists, Business Managers, Lawyers, Agriculturalists can be found doing menial, underpaying and out of purpose jobs in the province. Marijuana has a wide variety of medicinal properties, loosely translated this plant has the potential to create a wide variety of industries and create more jobs. If only we stopped seeing it as an illegal substance and started seeing it as a regulated agricultural product.
I am yet to read a case study on the benefits of commercialising marijuana in the province. If you know one, please share. If there isn't I hope this inspires someone. Rural Eastern Cape is agriculturally intensive, meaning the most unskilled individual - unskilled in formal education standards - in the area is able to work the land. Meaning farming marijuana has the potential to create progression for rural communities. This is vital because rural communities are supposed to be connected to the conversations on reviving rural and township economies - which I might add, is currently leaning favourably towards the side of townships.
Plus the private use of marijuana in South Africa is now legal, meaning there is an opportunity to experiment on developing new products for private use, outside of recreational smoking.
All I am saying is that the time has come to submit a different argument on the full-scale commercialization of marijuana - even if it is through existing agricultural and pharmaceutical frameworks - in the Eastern Cape.
With that said, I would really love to hear from Wandile Sihlobo, on what senior Eastern Cape government officials thought about his suggestion to conduct formal research on marijuana's potential economic benefits in the area. Mr Sihlobo is the chief economist for the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz).
The creation of new industries using what already exists is very important because the province is plagued by poverty, youth unemployment and serious underdevelopment.
What is holding us back?
In some religions in South Africa, especially the various Christian denominations, marijuana is classified or viewed as an enabler for sin (or transgression) this is because of the limited understanding of what it can do apart from being a hallucinogen for recreational smokers. But in my view, such belief is the same as categorising red meat as an enabler to sin because its consumption may lead to gluttony or open a gateway for other chronical illnesses such as high blood pressure. The only difference is that the latter is not associated with spiritual uncleanness.
I am persuaded that our subconscious religious belief that marijuana is unclean and sinful is the barrier between Eastern Cape's young professionals and South Africa's next booming industry, built by entrepreneurs.
This belief is subsequently reinforced by the lack of understanding and lack of interest in regulations around marijuana in South Africa and Southern Africa. I see this as a hindrance to the economic, political and social will of the people to evolve. This argument may sound weak but we need to learn to unlearn associating marijuana with absolute immorality.
It's time we viewed marijuana as an agricultural product, the same way we do other agricultural products. In Zimbabwe, the Tobacco leaf is one of the country's main agricultural exports. Its proceeds sustain both sinner and saint.
The Eastern Cape has the potential to grow and export processed marijuana or cannabis extracts to countries like the United States of America.
The use of marijuana is not limited to recreational smoking. Products like Cannabis oil have incredible health benefits. Traditionally, amaXhosa uses its ashes to dry-up open wounds and prevent puss and other infections from manifesting.
The only known side-effect of prolonged recreational smoking of marijuana, is that it can affect the development of your brain's frontal cortex or frontal lobe; according to Health Online, this is that part of the brain that controls important cognitive skills in humans, such as emotional expression, problem-solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behaviours.
This part of our brain is known to start developing at the tail end of our teenage years. But there are no reported side-effects of using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Age restrictive laws and other regulations have a place in the dagga industry like we have for tobacco. I mean South Africa's Blood Alcohol Limit for drivers only came into effect in March 1998 and it is under constant review and modification. But we have been receiving taxes and other revenues from the liquor industry for as long as you can remember.
In 2000, South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to introduce the Tobacco Control Act which amongst other things banned public smoking. This regulation was seen as both progressive and infringing at the time but the move was considered necessary. Why can't we apply the same forward thinking when it comes to commercialising marijuana?
Instead of sending kids to prisons and they end up with criminal records that may sabotage their careers because of minor offences before they even get off the mark. Let us decriminalise marijuana.
I know as a country we still need to have a lot of conversations on the decriminalisatiom of marijuana and setting up suitable regulations for retail recreational purchase, like we do with alcohol and cigarettes, so that the already poor children who are most likely to be the ones caught smoking it may at least not end up with criminal records, if they are found on the other side of compliance.
Lastly, there is not a single documented case in the world of someone who has ever died from smoking marijuana. This is because marijuana has extremely low toxicity compared to hard drugs like cocaine and other soft drugs like caffeine.
What are your thoughts?
Written 07 March 2019