Threat to Eswatini’s Cannabis Illegal Market Grows

By: Ntombi Mhlongo

With the Republic of South Africa forging ahead with plans to implement total commercialisation of the cannabis plant, there are fears that this will be the biggest blow to the local illegal cannabis market.

Thousands of Emaswati rely on dagga farming

Despite it being illegal, it is a known fact that thousands of emaSwati rely on dagga farming, especially in rural areas. In a memorandum issued by the SA Ministry of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development dated September 17, 2022, the ministry assured that the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services is currently working on the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill. The ministry stated that it was the intention of the SA government to, mindful that the development of legislation was a lengthy process, to develop interim legal measures to unlock certain elements of the cannabis value chain.

The ministry also informed stakeholders that under the guidance of an inter-ministerial committee, all efforts will be made to put all operational and legislative processes in place to ensure that SA, especially the cannabis farmers, extract full economic benefit from the cannabis value chain. Speaking to the Eswatini Financial Times, Trevor Shongwe of the Eswatini Hemp and Cannabis Association (EHCA) said tough times lay ahead for the local illegal dagga farmers. “It is clear that South Africa is forging ahead and this is more than a threat. Since last year we have lost a lot in terms of major markets in our illegal activity. As you know, in the Kingdom of Eswatini there has been illegal cannabis growing for over 100 years so our main market was South Africa. After they legalised we started running out of markets,” he said.

Explaining further, Shongwe said they were worried that a lot of the illegal farmers will be going into crime. “We are in trouble, If South Africa fully commercialises, then we will not be able to sell even a gram of cannabis so that will affect the shadow economy which will, in turn, affect the growth of domestic product because as the informal economy we believe that we contribute a lot,” he said. He said South Africa was already farming and had the resources and that the locals cannot compete with the neighbouring country since they were illegal and do not have permits. The success story of a South African cannabis company that had its stock worth millions sold out in Europe recently should be a wake-up call for the Kingdom of Eswatini.

This is the view of the Eswatini Hemp and Cannabis Association (EHCA) which said it will be unfortunate if the government does not learn a lesson from the latest developments regarding the cannabis business in the neighbouring country. This follows recent reports that a South African company sold its entire stock in advance as the demand for cannabis for medicinal purposes soars. EHCA’s Trevor Shongwe said as an association they were hopeful that now that there were many positives in the South African cannabis market, the Eswatini Government will speed up the process of passing the legislation required for companies to trade in the product. “Our government needs to wake up before it is too late. It is sad that we have seen many opportunities over the years pass by,” said Shongwe.

The SA media reported last week that the booming demand for medicinal cannabis from Europe to Australia has seen an SA producer sell all its output for next year in advance. It was mentioned that SafriCanna signed sale deals with Germany and Australia for the bulk of the production. The company is reported to have started construction of its facilities in Pretoria in 2019 and shipped its first flowers in June. In the same month, it agreed with German-based DEMECAN to supply medicinal cannabis flowers. SafriCanna is among a handful of African companies to have met the EU’s strict good-manufacturing-practice standards, allowing it to export cannabis flowers as an active pharmaceutical ingredient to Europe, Haidar. In the Kingdom of Eswatini, the plan of turning cannabis into cash has been delayed following the withdrawal of a bill in Parliament.

Members of Parliament (MPs) withdrew the controversial amendment of the Opium and Habit-Forming Drugs (Amendment) Bill No.06 of 2020 as some felt that there was a need for further consultations since the Bill touched on a lot of emaSwati. After the consultations with stakeholders, the minister was to then re-pilot the Bill. However, that has not happened.

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