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CANNABIS BILL CONTROVERSY: DID DAGGA GROWERS INFLUENCE MPS?

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MBABANE – Did dagga growers influence MPs?  The withdrawal of the Opium and Habit-Forming Drugs (Amendment) Bill No.06 of 2020 in the House of Assembly last week, has raised more questions than answers.


The Bill was withdrawn following a motion that was moved by Hosea MP Bacede Mabuza and his fellow members voted for it. The motion was that the minister of Health should withdraw the Bill to allow for further consultations for a period of not more than six months. It was also moved that subsequently, the minister may repilot the Bill.


Motion


While a majority of the MPs supported the motion and eventually voted for it, questions have been raised on whether the people who motivated them to make such a decision did the right thing or simply misled them out of ignorance.


This publication has in the past few days been inundated with calls from concerned and interested parties, who decried that perhaps the people who motivated the withdrawal might have done so without having properly understood what the actual aim of the Bill was. One of the concerned people, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was unfortunate to learn of such a twist. He mentioned that perhaps emaSwati were rational or had profound ignorance on issues.


Explaining his point, the concerned citizen said it was perplexing that some of the MPs were calling for a broader inclusion of stakeholders such as dagga growers, which he said made him think there seemed to be resistance and possibly fear of the unknown. He mentioned that it was important to consider that there were two models or separate business focuses and that there was no readily visible competition or threat between them as their markets were different.
“The Bill focuses on the formal medicinal market while the current local dagga farmers are focusing on the recreational market, which is not the focus of the Bill and therefore no threat to either business line, notwithstanding that they are both using the cannabis plant but for different markets.


Secondly, as far as I am concerned, the Bill does not seek to limit the number of licences issued to a few selected individuals or companies and the other good thing is that the international market for medicinal use is currently big, such that even the whole of Eswatini’s arable land could be used to grow medicinal cannabis because it will be a while before the market saturates,” he said.


Momentous


He said it was obvious that the market prices might fluctuate but that the market was momentous for anyone to worry at this point.  “It’s quite clear that some of the MPs have been lobbied by growers who are ignorant of this law, so much that they fail to understand that the committee of MPs was merely doing its parliamentary duty which is farfetched from being captured,” he alleged. Another concerned citizen claimed that dagga growers might have misled the MPs in fear that the Bill would put their businesses in jeopardy.


This citizen admitted to being one of those who made presentations to the select committee that was handling the whole process.
“During our presentation, we also highlighted that the international companies have an exciting holistic approach. So local dagga growers should just relax and only worry about the usual police invasions and not the medicinal Bill amendments as there is absolutely zero risk to their current business,” he said. 


This publication made an effort to speak to some dagga farmers on the issue and they indeed admitted that they have been mobilising some MPs.
The farmers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, revealed that they were not happy with the idea of legalising dagga in the kingdom and had always urged parliamentarians not to legalise it. One of the growers said they were happy with the withdrawal of the Bill because the value of the illicit herb will continue to be high.


“They should leave it as it is because many people are benefitting, including the MPs,” said the farmer.
He said many MPs, especially in the Hhohho Region, were being pressured by their communities not to legalise dagga.  “They were advised that should they legalise it, they would have to feed members of the constituencies from their pockets because it would mean there would be no source of income,” he alleged. He said the fact that it was illegal to cultivate or be found in possession of dagga created value for the illicit herb.  The dagga farmer further said the destruction of the herb by police officers also increased its value.


“When police officers destroy dagga, it then becomes scarce and the value goes up,” he said. He also said when dagga is scarce, a kilogramme could fetch between E5 000 to E10 000 yet this is not the case when it is in surplus.  However, when there is plenty of supply of the illicit herb, according to the dagga grower, the same can fetch as little as E1 500.


Withdraw


Another farmer was asked if MPs were pressured by dagga growers to withdraw the Bill and he responded to the affirmative.
He alleged that not only did the farmers pressure the MPs but even the people who worked in dagga fields.
He also revealed that legalising dagga would affect many businesses including car dealerships.


The farmer said buying a car was easier because even the dealerships did not ask for bank statements.
“If you convince them that you cultivate dagga, they will give you a vehicle which you can pay off later,” said the farmer.   This publication gathered that thousands of emaSwati were employed in dagga fields.  For dagga harvesting, workers earn as much as E100 or more per bucket of dagga.


This is a very high income considering that labourers in the forestry industry earn the same amount having worked hard for nearly 10 hours.  *Jama, whose specialises in special grade dagga, also revealed that the industry did not just benefit emaSwati but Mozambicans as well, who worked in the dagga fields to cultivate it. He revealed that in about three months, one could earn as much as E20 000.


“This is a lot of money,” he said.
Jama said he would continue advocating that dagga should not be legalised and that members of the Royal Eswatini Police Services (REPS) should continue destroying it but not all of it.


“By destroying the dagga, the police control the price of dagga from dropping further,” said Jama.  Another dagga grower, *Musa, also said he was pleased that the Bill had been withdrawn.
He said this was good because it meant that the value of the dagga would continue to be high.


Musa said the MPs who supported the legalisation of dagga were those who did not understand how the economy of the country worked.
“The dagga industry drives the economy. The MPs know for a fact that legalising dagga would reduce its value. There are MPs who are not involved in any dagga dealing but they benefit from it in one way or the other. Dagga growing is not just unique to northern Hhohho but throughout the country. Even in places like Lavumisa where they complain of water, you will find dagga being cultivated,” said Musa.


It should be noted that when making their submissions leading to the withdrawal of the Bill last week, most of the MPs emphasised that they had been ‘sent by the people who elected them’.

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