The cannabis economy has piqued public interest, and the era of prohibition has been left unratified while those that have suffered at the hands of ill government policies and over a hundred years of apartheid, are still left in the trenches with legal cannabis rolling out at full steam in other parts of the world, in broad daylight.

South Africa has not yet fully legalised the commercial production and trading of cannabis, but you are legally allowed to grow at home for personal use, albeit nobody actually knows what the actual amount of personal stash one may have. But it’s not all sunshine, rainbows and butterflies in the land of unicorns where the countries in which cannabis trading has been legalised, continue to reap billions in profit, create more jobs and receive good tax revenue for those governments, which they then in return use to reincarcerate those that failed to stick to Prohibition 2.0’s rules.

Many countries have picked up to cannabis research from the narrow view of this plant for smoking or recreational use because they realise the herb offers more medicinal and health properties – as well as economic benefits – than just a puff.

New industries have been created by entrepreneurs for decades using cannabis as the main ingredient for products such as oil, nutrition, cosmetic products, drinks, food supplements and medicine complimenting a variety of ailments and remedies that your doctor most probably still doesn’t know, or want to believe.

A glance at companies dumping huge amounts of money into cannabis production, packaging, processing and trading – some of which are listed on various stock exchanges (and owned by ex-prohibitionists [the ones that locked you up, now profits from you]) – proves that the white monopoly capital is on the green herb.

For South Africa’s economy to grow, the government needs to create a pardon schema with IMMEDIATE EFFECT for current affected parties that are in jail for informal trading of cannabis. South Africa needs to tap into emerging cannabis economies through effective encapsulation of passionate entrepreneurs that will not leave the black market till the licensed environment is fit to do so, so that new growth engines are started which will benefit all our people, and not just a select few employed at minimum wage, and their capital masters.

We have a choice to either join the emerging cannabis economy on an industrial scale, or watch as we did with the industrialisation of our mineral resources, banking, telecoms, oil & gas, medical aids, automobile, and obese retail footprints which resulted in foreign companies mining dollars, euros and pounds in South Africa but processing them outside our country and benefiting those economies.

Given the abundance of cannabis in South Africa, the determined willingness of the grass roots people, their religious seasonal workings in their gardens which comes with years of experience, the reported potency of its local cultivars (and the significant unique medicinal properties it holds) plus the existing, proven, demographic to plant, to produce, harvest and sell the herb, the time has come for the government to open up and take advantage of the potentially huge economic spin-offs, including the creation of jobs and the establishment of contracts for farmers and traders, only after special provision has been made to accommodate a licensing schema for these people.

The first point for us is to release the informal traders that’s been unfairly imprisoned for cannabis trade, and a reconciliation commission needs to be appointed to ensure that all victims of past unjust cannabis laws be given a time of day by given them legal way to majority local ownership of cannabis license shareholding which needs to form part of newly created guidelines. This will keep a majority of the revenue in South Africa, which in turn will generate more local manufacturing, GDP contributions and it will immediately provide relief without injunction by court for victims of current unjust cannabis laws. Only then should the government concern themselves to legalise the production, use and trading of cannabis so that everything we do is within the legal framework regulated by the Constitution of our country, and is fair to those affected in the past, present, and future.

It is important for government to embrace the broader use of cannabis beyond simply looking at it via pharmaceutical lenses.

By obtaining legislative approval of the use, production and trading of the herb, we will have to set in motion regulatory mechanisms to prevent medical problems. Cannabis farmers need to be safe guarded from abuse by government officials seeking to chase and monopolize the cannabis industry, as proven in Canada.

We need to protect the intellectual property by creating co-ops and registering formations of local co-operating cells, including the skills to produce the herb, from economic vultures hovering around the country to snatch their lucrative prey.

We need to setup a Cannabis Workers Union to ensure safe worker environments and make sure that the new overlords are employing and managing their people fairly, and with health and safety of their employees in mind as well.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done by both national and provincial government, but they have clearly been dragging their feet, denying public participation, and lacked setting up a special cannabis task force to deal with legislative matters, and has even gone as far as stalling license applications, and provisionally and selectively following the money.

We need to engage potential investors looking at setting up a cannabis regulatory house to deal with industrial challenges.

We are in this to create jobs, revenue, business contracts for the people of the Republic of South Africa, which is why we are putting them first as we pursue this emerging economy.

It is imperative that the work being done by government entities be streamlined into one process so that government support is structured to support villagers growing the herb, ensuring they benefit from the cannabis economy.

There is no dispute that for this economy to fully benefit the people of the Republic of South Africa – and the rest of SADC – we need support from municipalities and broader government institutions. Municipalities need to stand up and start writing investor friendly by-laws to incentivize local development of multi-million rand operations. There is no reason for the government not to invest money for research and development and to set up cannabis-related industries when there’s so much research already done. We transplanted the first heart, and we also packaged dagga prohibition and apartheid together rather well..

Given our ongoing loyalty to the agriculture sector, South Africa has no choice but to get involved in affirming the cannabis economy for our growth and that of the country.

Because cannabis has always been grown, produced and distributed in this country – albeit illegally – there is already a base from which to launch a massive economy that can buoy herb growing, especially in rural villages which could become active economic centres and not the poverty-stricken places they are, if only government could make lite work of this…

However growing the herb is not enough. We need to concretise plans to expunge prison sentences, release effected parties and to stop the cops from unfairly arresting informal traders and users of cannabis.

We intend to assemble a team of experts to advise the government on seamless and better processes to coordinate the work done.

Such a team will include constitutional law experts, regulatory lawyers, magistrates, ex police officers, doctors, nurses, and your mother, to advise on speeding up broader herb affirmative legislation, and scientists, we always need more of those to provide more scientific advice for production and use.

Because we want to grow the economy, we will include economists (that have not left the country yet) to map out market opportunities for trade, business processes and opportunities for producers and traders. The government will also relentlessly keep on wasting resources on mapping and trying to take out black market informal traders of dagga, which could be your mom.

We will invest on social facilitation, community engagement and develop a medical cannabis educational support programme so that we can provide broader support for those that continue to cultivate, trade, and consume cannabis without a license as it currently stands.

One of the things we cannot run away from is that the illegal production and trading has given some villagers a source of income, production skills and trading mechanisms that will be critical when the herb is fully legalised, but since only home production is legal, nobody is buying from them anymore, so their sources of income is at jeopardy, will the next big government ship of salvation land here soon?

This emerging economy demands configuration of our adoption as government and broader society to create the resources, skills and knowledge that will ensure our country benefits from the cannabis economy.

This is one match we are not going to watch from the sidelines.

This article was rewritten by Imiël Visser, whom consults as a Cannabis QA & Regulatory Advisor during his day-time. This is a personal opinion piece in reflection of a citizen’s view of an original article titled: “We Have a Choice To Either Join The Emerging Cannabis Economy Or Stand By And Watch” of which the original version was written by Mabuyane the premier of the Eastern Cape, provincial chairperson of the ANC, as Published on City Press.