Hemp houses could spur job creation

23 September 2018 - 00:00 By BOBBY JORDAN

Cape Town has always been a cloud of contradictions: on one side of the street a mosque, on the other a house made almost entirely of cannabis.
Yes, the neighbours were surprised at first, said architect Oliver Wolf this week of his unconventional design in the Bo-Kaap. But it's not like you can smoke it - his cannabis walls are made from marijuana's taller cousin, hemp, considered by many to be the real buzz behind cannabis.
As the smoke clears around this week's legalisation of private cannabis use, many say changing attitudes could herald an industrial hemp revolution, with more material benefits - such as hemp clothes, foodstuffs and housing.
Wolf said Cape Town has several hemp buildings, among them his own three-storey wonder in the city bowl with a greenhouse roof. He had been recently approached by developers wanting to build more. He said legalising commercial hemp growing would open the floodgates.
If people can now grow marijuana, a psychotropic drug, at their home, why can't they grow the harmless hemp too?
"Now it just doesn't make sense not to allow it," said Wolf, who had to import the hemp to build his house in Chiappini Street, below Signal Hill. "It is easy to grow, is a good crop, can pull in a huge labour force and has so many applications. It's a no-brainer."
Wolf is not alone in questioning the logic of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 1992, which slapped a ban on all forms of cannabis. The ban remains in place despite this week's ruling: you can smoke pot, but you still can't grow it commercially.
However, hemp business people such as Tony Budden said there is no reason why commercial hemp cultivation should not be allowed, particularly in light of the potential industrial uses, such as low-cost housing.
"They don't ban all mushrooms because some make you high or might kill you. So why doesn't the law make allowance for the non-psychotropic variety of cannabis?" said Budden.
He was the first to build a hemp house in SA - in Noordhoek - and owns the Hemporium, which sells imported hemp products ranging from bags to clothes.
"Cannabis is more tightly controlled than poppies. You can still grow poppies and eat poppy seed rolls," said Budden. "These are the frustrations we face. It has taken us a long time to grow into an industry but instead of making South African farmers rich we are supporting foreigners by importing their hemp."
The Eastern Cape is a near-perfect locale for the hemp crop, enthusiasts point out - a view apparently shared by the department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries, which this week confirmed it was considering various cannabis business proposals.
"We are going to allow cannabis for industrial purposes, including pharmaceutical companies," said spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana. "But we are going to organise rural co-operatives where cannabis has always been planted, like in Ladysmith and Mthatha. We will create co-operatives and protect them from corporates, especially those who are already sending proposals."
Wolf believes SA is ripe for industrial hemp because it needs sustainable jobs.
Budden said this week's court ruling meant all those holding their breath for a positive cannabis outcome could now at least start to exhale. If they want to.

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