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Black farmers to march on health products regulator over 'cannabis exclusion'

22 April 2021 - 06:30 By orrin singh
The Black Farmers' Association of SA says it will march to the head offices of SA's health products regulator in Pretoria on Thursday. Stock photo.
The Black Farmers' Association of SA says it will march to the head offices of SA's health products regulator in Pretoria on Thursday. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Ivan Stajkovic
Things may get lit when the war over who is granted medical cannabis licences in SA takes centre stage in Pretoria on Thursday.
 
The Black Farmers' Association of SA (Bfasa) and their affiliates plan to embark on a mass protest march to the offices of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) over the “exclusion” of indigenous people from being granted medicinal cannabis licences.
 
Bfasa came out guns blazing in a statement alleging that Sahpra's management, under instruction from health minister Zweli Mkhize, was granting licences to affluent white people and foreign-owned companies without considering indigenous people, monarchs, traditional healers, rural agriculture and Rastafarians. 
 

Sahpra denied these claims on Wednesday, saying it treated “all applicants equally and with respect”.

Bfasa's issue points directly at the Medicines and Related Substances Act (Act No 101 of 1965) which gives Sahpra the power to regulate all health products in the country. 

Bfasa said while the act did not prescribe to Sahpra who they were permitted to grant licences to, the organisation had “noticed” these licences being given to “white international companies”.

“Sahpra has stated publicly that their actions in using the apartheid-era act of 1965 to allow them to issue licences to whites only and foreigners, to the deliberate exclusion of the indigenous population, are at the specific instructions of the minister of health.

“Sahpra’s board mentions on record that Dr Zweli Mkhize is to blame for the monopolisation of the cannabis industry because it is he who grants the licences to the white-owned companies and if that is the truth then Dr Zweli Mkhize must step down,” said the Bfasa.
 
Sahpra said these claims were unfounded.

“The minister is not involved in any way with Sahpra operational processes such as the issuance of licences and neither has he issued such a restrictive directive. Sahpra denies this flawed allegation unequivocally,” the regulator said in a statement. 

Sahpra said current legislation did not permit them to issue licences for the cultivation of cannabis for non-medicinal commercial purposes including for use in food.

“The process to obtain a licence from Sahpra to cultivate cannabis for medicinal purposes is a rigorous one. There needs to be standardisation of the cannabis cultivars and assurance that crops can be grown under conditions of strict security.”

Sahpra said the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes “requires strict control” as SA was a signatory to international treaties that prohibit the production and supply of narcotic and psychotropic drugs, including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.

“There is a strict process and strict protocols involved and the relevant personnel and committees are tasked with this procedure.”

Bfaasa charged that their protest was in pursuit of a “promise” made by Sahpra board chairperson Prof Helen Rees, who had in a previous virtual meeting said Bfasa would be given pre-licences.

“This is on record and MPs were present in that meeting,” said the association

Bfasa called for a total shutdown of Sahpra. 

“We are still making a call that all issued illegitimate licences must be revoked, because [they] were issued against our constitution & BEE policy. Sahpra is a constitutional delinquent when it comes to issuing of these licences; therefore, they need to shut down.”

Sahpra said it was “concerned” about the inaccuracies of such narratives by Bfasa  because they confused the public in what was a complex legal and policy matter.

“Accurate reporting is essential to allow the public to participate constructively and meaningfully in this debate. Furthermore, the Department of Agriculture, land reform and rural development together with other departments and entities, are in the process of developing the Cannabis Master Plan which will provide a road map for the cannabis industry.”

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