Cannabis Trade: Talking Shop with Jason O’Donoghue of the SACCRA
Meet Jason O’Donoghue, a founding member of South Africa’s first cannabis trade alliance.
Author – Max Richardson-Davis & Jason O’Donoghue
Edited by Noah Persin & Jon Russell
I had the pleasure of speaking with Jason O’Donoghue, a leading cannabis activist in South Africa. As legalization efforts continue internationally, O’Donoghue hopes South Africa will adopt legislation allowing it to be the first African country to completely legalize cannabis for all purposes. Admittedly, he says, there’s a long way to go. That being said, the country is making more progress than one may imagine, mostly through new forms of education. What the future holds for cannabis in South Africa is uncertain. What is certain is that as O’Donoghue and others like him continue to educate and inform the public, cannabis will become more widely accepted in regions of the world it is rarely understood.
Maxwell Davis, GreenSea Distribution: Thanks for taking some time to speak with me today, Jason. For those who may be unfamiliar with you or your organization, would you briefly introduce yourself?
Jason O’Donoghue, South African Cannabis Community & Regulatory Association (S.A.C.C.R.A.): Thanks, Maxwell. Pleasure to be interviewed.
Maxwell: Tell me, why did you create S.A.C.C.R.A.?
Jason: The creation of S.A.C.C.R.A came about after the realization that, in the current “underground” or “guerrilla” market of cannabis products, there is no standard. Most individuals are out to make a quick buck, act in manners that are unbecoming and do not inform the users of dosages, allowing for abuse or a very ugly “trip”. Many of these black market suppliers use plant materials from an unverified source with unverified genetics. Most of the plant material available on the streets is supplied from the Transkei, a region where the police were spraying all cannabis crops with glyphosates (in addition to people, livestock and food sources). These chemicals are toxic to humans and are being used without regard to the facts. Our intention with S.A.C.C.R.A. is to create a collective of people acting with integrity on all levels, promoting a way of regulating a free cannabis industry at the community level. There is no need for cannabis to become like tobacco or alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol are both illegal under South African law, sold publicly under government licences. This means the corporations have been given licence to break the law, but everybody else can’t! Our intention is to use cannabis in a free market to empower everyone to have access to their own medicine, to have access to a potential source of income, to have fair access to cannabis.
Maxwell: What inspired you to become a cannabis activist in South Africa? I don’t think many watching from the American or Canadian cannabis industries would assume South Africa is on the forefront of cannabis reform.
Jason: Haha, sadly, I would have to agree. Far too many people in positions of authority in South Africa are unaware of the facts regarding cannabis. Just recently our local magistrate was under the impression that it’s the dried leaves you smoke… This is the person that is supposed to make logical rulings on the law using factual evidence. This is not a localized issue, rather, a national one. The only ones aware of the facts are those who actually smoke it themselves. Those who have to consume behind locked doors in soundproof rooms, lest they get caught!
What inspired me was that everyone I came in contact with, in regards to legalizing cannabis, was always talking about control in one form or another. I don’t believe cannabis needs to be controlled. The best products should be made available to the public without costing a fortune. That is what inspired us to create and manage S.A.C.C.R.A., the desire to make sure the people only get the best that they deserve.
Maxwell: Tell me your views on the reclassifying of cannabis in your country. What was it previously listed as, what is listed as now and what changes has that made in regards to cannabis reform?
Jason: My views? Well, there seems to be planned tactics to misinform the public, allowing for private sector monopolization. Here are the facts: in South Africa, our schedule classification is opposite to the United States. Our 7 equals your Schedule 1. To be clear, rescheduling hasn’t happened yet, it was suggested. Officially, cannabis is still listed under 7, meaning it’s a banned substance with no medical benefits. The suggestion was to reschedule it down to 6, meaning it holds some medical benefit, but will only be available through prescription for limited treatments. What a lot of people fail to miss here is that the prescribed “medical cannabis” will not be the plant, or full plant extracts. Rather, it will be synthetic products under licence from Plandai and other pharmaceutical companies.
I know this because we received position papers from the government agencies, as well as the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), and it is a joke. According to CANSA, smoking cannabis causes lung disease and cannabis also causes nausea. This is the exact opposite of what most medical studies have found and goes against the logic that has allowed medical marijuana to be legalized in other countries internationally. The only products that they support are the synthetic pharmaceutically-owned medicines, prescribed for pain relief and the pain from chemotherapy. The medicine they plan on supplying is about establishing a returning customer base, not curing anything. It’s my opinion that CANSA doesn’t want the cure for cancer available to the public. If they did, this wouldn’t be their approach.
Maxwell: It seems South Africa, more than most, are approaching cannabis in a completely backwards light. It’s interesting an organization like CANSA would even mention cannabis. Moving forward a little here, what do you think about the Medical Innovation Bill (M.I.B.)? (The M.I.B. is a bill originally introduced by Dr. Mario Oriani-Ambrosini that will reportedly legalize medical marijuana, in addition to a number of other medical advances). What do you think the bill means for the South African cannabis industry?
Jason: Yes, the CANSA news came from a public position paper for the parliamentary review process. Unfortunately, the M.I.B. won’t mean much. In the bill, you will notice it mentions cannabinoids, never the cannabis plant as a whole. What the bill will legalize is the possibility for a pharmacology company – Plandai has already submitted their application for licence and is currently the only one – to produce synthetic cannabinoids legally. To produce these cannabinoids, they will need access to a certain amount of actual cannabis. If the bill doesn’t legalize cannabis in some regard, how will they get that material? That’s where the rescheduling comes into play. When cannabis is rescheduled, this will allow the Department of Health to issue licences allowing companies to grow specific amounts of cannabis. Such a program would allow a select few companies to grow an illegal substance legally, if that makes any sense, as cannabis will still remain under the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act. This also means the rest of us can still be prosecuted for small amounts of cannabis for personal consumption.
The M.I.B. is a violation of our Bill of Rights, as this misdirection of using the one reference to cannabinoids overshadows an even scarier aspect of the bill, where it gives away our medical sovereignty to doctors. This means, as a patient, you will no longer have a choice regarding your treatment, rather doctors will decide for you. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s a direct violation of freedom. Some new interesting information has been identified regarding the M.I.B.; one of the consulted parties was the Wallace Global Fund. One of their most senior investment advisors is Matt Gelfand, a managing director of Rockefeller & Company.
Maxwell: Now, I know you and I have been e-mailing back-and-forth regarding the passing of the M.I.B. Some international sources are claiming South Africa has legalized medical marijuana, yet you have said that, locally, the news doesn’t seem to be reporting the same story. Do you believe the bill has passed? If not, where do you believe the inconsistencies lie between South African and international news sources?
Jason: What’s false is saying South Africa has legalized medical marijuana. Cannabis is still illegal. After reading your article about the passing of the M.I.B., we verified that the bill is still in the Parliamentary review process and has not yet been promulgated. What’s troubling is, from what I’ve seen, both international and South African news sources are saying that legal medical marijuana is now an industry in the country, when that’s not fact. The inconsistencies lie in the availability of truthful information. Most news articles are punting a clear agenda by deliberately publishing half-truths. If we look at the facts as they stand, cannabis will remain an illegal substance, though a few choice pharmaceutical producers will be allowed to monopolize the synthetic cannabinoid industry.
Maxwell: What are the current cannabis laws in South Africa?
Jason: Cannabis is scheduled under Schedule 7 of the Medicines & Related Substances Act. It is also mentioned in the Drugs and Drugs Trafficking Act. In South Africa, if you are in possession of less than 110g, you will only be charged for possession. But, let me clear something up, the government doesn’t distinguish the bud (which we all know contains the cannabinoids) with the rest of the plant. They will weigh everything including the roots, stems, leaves and bud to pump up the weight, making their bust seem larger than it actually is. Some advice if you are caught in South Africa: make sure they only weigh the bud. And fight it! The moment you fight, they back off.
I would also like to bring to the public’s attention that the police are no longer allowed to do warrantless searches or arrests from a tip-off, as was previously allowed under the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act. There was a ruling at constitutional court in 2015 that police have sufficient means to obtain warrants and that warrantless searches are a violation of our right to privacy.
Maxwell: How would you like to see the laws in South Africa changed? Why?
Jason: First, get cannabis removed from the schedules. The scheduling was unjustified, without any scientific evidence to support it. Moving forward, remove cannabis from all law. Again, no evidence was ever submitted in support of justifying the prohibition laws. Currently, S.A.C.C.R.A has a constitutional court argument with reference to 15 specific points where prohibition directly violates our Bill of Rights. Most people’s instinctual response is to claim that cannabis will be abused by the public. This is exactly why regulations need to be in place, which is what S.A.C.C.R.A offers at community level. The laws are unconstitutional and therefore they must be fixed. Otherwise, we are allowing our freedom to be violated.
Maxwell: In South Africa, I imagine there’s even more misinformation regarding cannabis than in other parts of the world. In the United States, even politically conservative states like Florida have implemented medicinal cannabis laws. Is this true and, if so, how has the ignorance regarding cannabis played a role in your cause?
Jason: That’s very true for certain aspects of our society; mainly the middle-to-upper class. It’s really seen as evil, which is just ridiculous. In the Abantu culture, it has been an accepted herbal treatment for ages. They are more open and understanding when it comes to cannabis and understand that has benefits. They battle to understand why western culture has demonized it. I’ve heard a story of construction managers telling their staff to go smoke a spliff at lunch. The manager said that after they smoke, they work harder!
Maxwell: Quite the contrast of cannabis opinions exist in South Africa, it would seem. When looking at the rest of the world, who, in your opinion, does the best job with cannabis implementation?
Jason: In all honesty, I’m not all that aware of what’s happening around the world. What I do know is that there is still not a free cannabis market. Governments are doing all in their power to allow corporations to monopolize. The only country I am aware of that has taken a completely different outlook to drug policy is Portugal. The United States is still facing some big issues regarding their federal law too. We just want the individual to be able to grow their own without needing to ask permission to grow a simple plant! Commercial cannabis sales and the industry itself should be regulated for the benefit of the public, not the companies.
Maxwell: When do you see cannabis being legalized in South Africa? If so, do you see it being legalized for medicinal or recreational purposes first?
Jason: As things stand, I don’t see cannabis being legalized. Until the people realize the half-truths they are being fed, cannabis will remain in the hands of the corporations and government, sold to us at exorbitant prices solely for profit. S.A.C.C.R.A has a plan. Of course, whether people engage it is up to them.
S.A.C.C.R.A feels the cannabis plant should be freed from all laws, allowing not just for medical or recreational use, but also industrial. I mean, in hemp, we have a source of fuel available for vehicles. Paper that doesn’t require harmful chemicals for bleaching and produces more per acre than trees. Hemp can clean radiation waste from soil and other harmful heavy metals. It produces a biodegradable plastic. Why is everyone so focused on medical or recreational when cannabis does so much more? Do we not need to start rehabilitating our planet? Our plan: free the plant, free the people, heal the planet.
Maxwell: That’s a fantastic credo. What would you tell entrepreneurs hoping to get into the South African Cannabis business? Should they wait or should they start building infrastructure now?
Jason: I would tell them to support the people who have your interests in mind, as well as their heart. Don’t sit by the side lines waiting, step-up and support the best available options. Inform yourselves about each option – completely verify. If all you are interested in is making money off people, good luck. If you truly want liberation of cannabis, it’s time to decide what your involvement is. If it’s just wanting reliable trustworthy medicine, support those who offer that, support their cause. If you wish to grow, do what needs doing for to accomplish that goal. Same goes for production of the medicine. In legal conditions, S.A.C.C.R.A. would promote workshops and other community events to educate those interested in learning about the plant. There is nothing stopping them from investing in infrastructure and producing food in the meantime, simultaneously supporting the cause. Each person must do what they feel fit. Realistically, most investors would wait and probably should, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help the local cannabis community as it stands.
Maxwell: Do you predict South Africa will be the first African country to officially adopt cannabis legislation?
Jason: Haha, I’m not psychic! I would love for South Africa to be first and our organization and I will certainly strive towards that.
Maxwell: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Jason. I hope you continue fighting for your cause in a country, in a continent, that desperately needs it. For those reading and may be wondering, how can we help support your cause?
Jason: Educate yourselves, firstly. I would like to mention that S.A.C.C.R.A. is a membership association and all members who register hold equal shares. S.A.C.C.R.A also does not partake in any commercial activities beyond regulating its members, by the members and making sure they uphold the integrity of S.A.C.C.R.A’s ethos. If you want more information, the membership structure will be available soon. In the meantime, there is information about S.A.C.C.R.A available on our website and on Facebook. Once the S.A.C.C.R.A Development Trust is registered, which all members are the beneficiaries of, we will have a legal financial vehicle to open membership and start the legal lobby for free and fair access to the responsible use of the cannabis plant for all. Thank you, Maxwell. I am one stubborn soul, so giving up isn’t in me!
Maxwell: Haha, glad to hear it, Jason. Again, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Keep up the great work with S.A.C.C.R.A., you have our support!
Jason: The pleasure is mine. Thank you for inviting me to engage.