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SA

Dagga revolution may be budding opportunity for Africa

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MICHALYA SCHONWALD MOSS

This American child’s face began to swell, and all her teeth fell out. Maedler shared her story on the CannaTech stage this past week in Cape Town. “I thought, ‘Yay! I’m going to be rich with tooth fairy money’, but I could tell my mom wasn’t excited for me. She looked scared, and she got even more scared when my face started looking different.”

With the help of cannabis-derived cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, all of her bones regenerated.

Today, Maedler is the youngest chief executive in the global cannabis space, heading up a research and development company, Rylie’s Sunshine, dedicated to creating safe and affordable cannabis oils for kids living with debilitating illness.

Maedler had audiences at CannaTech in tears. She wasn’t the only one with a story of how medical cannabis saved her life.

Capetonian Frank Rosen, the founder of Cannabliss CBD oils and sugar-free edibles, shared how he cured himself of bladder cancer with CBD oil after years of mainstream interventions failed.

For Max Haamukale, a Zambian who recently acquired a medical-cannabis growing license and land to cultivate cannabis, participating in the CannaTech summit validated his new venture into the cannabis market. Haamukale believes cannabis cultivation is a win-win for Zambia, generating financial and social returns.

“When my uncle was dying of cancer, he was in so much pain. Someone suggested CBD oil when morphine didn’t work, and my uncle was able to live out his last days pain-free.”

In addition to the medicinal benefits of cannabis, the summit also explored the economic and social potential of medical cannabis in Africa.

In his opening remarks, South African-born Saul Kaye, the chief executive and founder of iCAN and CannaTech, shared the “why” of CannaTech with the audience.

“Some of you are here for the medicine, some of you are here for the plant, some of you are here for the investment. We are here for the massive opportunity for change. Change for good, change for karma, change on a global scale.”

CannaTech, a global gathering of key stakeholders and innovators in the medical cannabis ecosystem, drew more than 500 participants to Cape Town. Senior industry leaders, government officials, medical and scientific experts, and new ventures from Israel, the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia engaged with their African contemporaries from South Africa, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.

Rastafarians mingled with corporates and kippah-wearing Orthodox Jews from Israel and South Africa. The coffee baristas were inundated with orders for almond-milk lattes. Goodleaf’s cannabis-infused sparkling water and ice-cold Durban poison beer were in abundant supply.

Attendees also received a CannaTech branded hemp kippah.

“Million-dollar deals are being made right now,” Eli Beda, the sales director for CannaTech said pointing to a table in the main exhibition hall where a South African distribution company was vying to represent iBOT. The latter is an Israel-based multidisciplinary botanical nutritional supplement company specialising in formulations with cannabis, botanical, and fungal synergies.

According to a recent report by Prohibition Partners (a provider of independent international data on the cannabis market, intelligence, and strategy), the cannabis market in Africa is estimated to be worth R104 billion.

Warren Schewitz, the chief executive of Cape Town-based Southern Sun Pharma, believes that South Africa could expect to generate $2.5 billion (R36.7 billion) and create social upliftment on a national scale.

While Africa has been identified as a high-potential emerging market with the possibility of becoming the main source of bulk medicinal cannabis and cannabis-derived products, it’s still early days for the cannabis industry here.

South Africa is leading the continent’s entry into the market along with Lesotho and Zimbabwe. Other African countries including Swaziland and Malawi are examining the legalisation of cannabis cultivation for medical or industrial applications. But, although South Africa is leading the continent’s entry into the market, there are still no legal regulations in place that will enable the cannabis market to develop.

With inexpensive land, an experienced labour force, and a climate conducive to cannabis cultivation, cannabis may be able to contribute to a continent-wide economic uptick via job creation. But this budding industry faces challenges, such as maintaining consistent, sustainable product quality, overcoming regulatory uncertainty, and promoting sustainability and social equity. However, for CannaTech participants, the benefits of engaging with the industry in Africa outweigh the risks.

As enthusiastic as Schewitz is about kickstarting a green revolution in South Africa, he also recognises that the cultural narrative regarding dagga needs to change for the cannabis ecosystem to thrive.

The Afristar Foundation and the Cannabis Industry Development Cooperative of the Western Cape are working to create a new narrative around dagga, turning it from the “devil’s weed” to the “people’s plant”. They are promoting cannabis as “a versatile, useful wonder crop that produces superfoods, fuel, fibre, and medicine with enormous potential to uplift communities across Africa, create jobs, entrepreneurs, and massive economic opportunities”.

“What usually happens after CannaTech is that conversations around the medical cannabis market make it to government level,” says Beda. “For example, a week after CannaTech in Panama, the government met to discuss legislation and strategy around cannabis.”

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