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Written byZenith Phaal

The Devil’s Lettuce or a Greener Future?

Last Friday I had the privilege of bunking a UCT media lecture to go to what I thought would be a “Drug Convention” with whacko doctors smoking blunts, anarchistic economists burning money, and regular lawyers, but alas, the panels at the Cannabis Expo (2023) were well organised and only imparted valuable knowledge about the state of Cannabis as a product in South Africa. Most people seemed to be more interested in perusing the stalls, which is fine, but I believe the highlight of the event was hearing from major players in the Cannabis industry who were succinct in their arguments and highly engaging. It may have been partially due to the gummy I ate right before the first panel but I feel smarter for having gone to the Cannabis Expo and can hopefully impart some of the knowledge which got beamed directly into my brain. My goal was to absorb vital information regarding health, legislation, and commercial industry regarding Cannabis as a growing sector provided by the 5 panels I attended on Friday. This is the most interesting info I got.

Something I anticipated was a conversation around the hurdles of growing Cannabis in a country that has not fully legalised it, however, I did not expect to learn quite as much as I did about regulation and growing. As it turns out, one cannot simply plant 50 hemp seeds and start a Cannabis business. In South Africa there is a fine line between growing Cannabis for simple Hemp products, such as oil, shirts, rope, etc. and being labelled a manic drug lord. If your plants exceed 0.2% THC content, you’re legally a criminal according to the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 1992 and can thus be prosecuted as a Marijuana grower, which means you need to get your crops tested to make sure you don’t accidentally end up on the next “Narcos”. As I’ve learned, however, testing is highly unreliable because there are many different testing methods that can yield vastly different results. If you’re growing Cannabis to make T-Shirts, does it really matter if your plants have 0.3% THC? No. Your hemp material socks aren’t going to get you zooted even if they’re 5% THC.

“We have no champion in Government”

The slow rate of reform is staggering

It is understandable why THC is regulated in some instances. It gets you high. People can do stupid shit when they’re high, but Cannabis hasn’t directly caused any deaths. Due to the potential risk of psychosis, it was pretty much agreed by everyone that took part in the panels that there should be some form of regulation to prevent this. In the grand scheme of drugs, the Devil’s Lettuce is still vastly safer than any opioids you can find on the market which can straight up kill you. Because Cannabis is a schedule 1 Drug it’s considered to have possibly harmful side effects. This, while technically true is a bit silly when you consider the many other drugs, like opioids, in the medical industry which can cause serious harm. Even those on the panels who viewed Cannabis as potentially quite harmful see the extreme categorisation of Cannabis as a major oversight, and a hindrance in proving the efficacy of Cannabis as a valuable medical product. In reality the usefulness of Cannabis vastly outweighs the possibility of psychosis for most people. There is however a challenge in proving that fact.

There are over a hundred different cannabinoids that won’t cause you harm but can instead be used to treat a variety of ailments. The complexity of using Cannabis to treat illness is related to the Entourage Effect, the idea that the various chemicals within a Cannabis plant (or any pharmaceutical drug) interact with each other to produce different healing properties, which need to be tuned to accommodate the needs of a patient. This is partially why clinical trials have trouble proving the validity of Medicinal Marijuana. Each person has a different sensitivity to the different Cannabinoids which tickle their ECS (Endocannabinoid System), meaning a different balance of chemicals is required to produce the desired medicinal outcome when using Cannabis. Our Endocannabinoid System is very important. Something, like Cannabis, which has such a strong effect on its receptors should not be taken lightly as a natural, healthy drug, in place of drugs like opioids. Ingesting Weed interacts with this system in a similar manner to exercise and healthy foods, reducing stress and treating deficiencies.

With South Africa being the 4th largest grower of Cannabis and having a long history of Medicinal use by its Indigenous people, should we not take advantage of these major benefits to revolutionise the Cannabis industry as a whole?

We should. It’s well recorded that indigenous groups have used Cannabis to treat illnesses in traditional healing. Who is SAHPRA, or any other organisation, to regulate the entire industry, to govern these people and their customs as well as inhibit positive change in the modern medical field… I agree that it’s good practice to get your Cannabis reliably tested to ensure it will have the correct medical properties (unless you just tryna get lit, in which case hmu), but at some point regulation becomes oppression, and I believe we’ve reached that point. I believe we should adopt Thailand’s approach to regulation which is literally fuck around and find out. They fully legalised Cannabis to ascertain its risks and benefits, allowing experts to test its usefulness and viability, medicinally, recreationally and for Hemp products in general. This allows experts in the industry to sidestep the legal hurdles required to prove the validity of Cannabis for various purposes which we know are there. As one of the best growers of Cannabis, why does South Africa treat most of the Cannabis industry as a drug problem instead healthier alternative?

Why is Cannabis treated like a pharmaceutical drug when it’s a relatively safe, botanical herb? Why is criminalisation so easy to enforce and why do the police have the discretion to arrest those growing Cannabis even when they are doing it legally? I’m not sure. At this point the gummy was kicking in and I’d had a couple other free samples and decided I needed to get home before driving became an impossibility. The various groups of people I met there were extremely kind and vocal about their different standings towards Cannabis, which is always appreciated. A variety of views always leads to the best critical conversation around such a topic, which is why I took 7 pages of notes. Something important to note is that there is a possibility that in 6 months the government may take a stricter stance towards the current bill proposed in 2020 to allow for some more Cannabis related freedoms. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen, for the sake of medical practitioners (Indigenous and Western), patients, rural farmers, stressed-out people and Craig, who was enjoying his new Weed vape at the Expo.

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Nothing good can come of limiting a people’s right to health. Yes there may be some risks and I believe Cannabis should be somewhat regulated, but goddamn, I reckon we should just fuck around and find out.