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MBABANE – “Until the Cannabis Bill is lucrative to the ordinary liSwati, we have no business discussing it.”

This was the assertion by some Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday during a workshop facilitated by the Ministry of Health on the Opium and Habit-Forming Drug (Amendment) Bill, 2022 at Happy Valley Hotel. The workshop was facilitated to orient the MPs on the latest amendments made on the Bill after the first amendments proposed in 2019, along with their regulations were indefinitely thrown out. The MPs were resolute in their stance to throw out the Bill, stating that more consultations, especially at community level, were required before it could be tabled in Parliament by the ministry.

According to some of the MPs, if the amendments excluded how the Bill would ensure emaSwati benefitted, as it was common cause that most were into cannabis farming or cultiavtion, tabling it in Parliament would be unnecessary. However, other parliamentarians were of the belief that the Bill should be tabled in Parliament and further dissected and worked on at parliamentary stage, indicating that this could be done through the Bill’s regulations. “If the Bill passes as is, it will not be lucrative to the man on the street and it comes across as another capitalism front where only the big fish will capitalise,” said Manzini North MP Macford Sibandze during his submission.


He said this matter was lengthy and the farming of the habit-forming drug for generating income dated back to almost a 100 years. “Right now the ministry presents a far more technical Bill, detailing the different types of cannabis instead of getting to the gist of the matter. People will not understand it yet there is then a section which includes fines for illegal possession which directly affects them,” he said.  He said it would be an injustice to exclude the ordinary liSwati and create a Bill which appeals to the pharmarceutical aspect yet there are then fines included which are issued for the general public. “I am sure everyone is aware of the analogy of the big fish eating the small fish. This is exactly what will prevail if the Bill is passed,” he said.

Mhlume MP Victor Malambe, who was quite vocal about his distaste of the presented amendments, submitted that although the ministry had indicated that they underwent consultations on the Bill, it was not evident and appeared as though they predominantly drew inspiration from the consultations which excluded the real dagga cultivators. “Why I am questioning this, is because there are provisions being explained by the ministry which come across as though they are not well-informed. When they are breaking down the types of cannabis in the Bill they excluded seeds yet there is no dagga without seeds. The issue of fines is quite concerning as well because it makes one wonder who this Bill is for, as it would have been valid to at least check with the dagga cultivators in the outskirts what would work for them,” he said.

Malambe further said these consultations would make it more viable for the next person as most emaSwati were generating income through this. The Mhlume MP further scrutinised a clause in the Act of 1922, stating that one needed to have a portion of land to cultivate the habit-forming drug or to be eligible to possibly be granted a licence to farm cannabis legally.
“If we would do a poll to find out how many emaSwati or even the people in this room have 10 hectares land you might find that there are few or even none. As MPs how will we be accountable to the people who elected us as this will clearly end their source of income,” said the Mhlume MP.

Malambe further indicated that there was no evident instrument used to measure the fines given to emaSwati contained in the amended Bill and at the rate things were going, it was evident that most fines were simply not measured based on market value. “What instrument have you used or are currently using to assess that a liSwati has to pay E50 000 or maybe E10 000 when found illegally cultivating dagga? This is because when a liSwati is arrested for illegal possession of maybe 50 bags, the law says you do not go to the magistrate but are instead referred to the High Court, but what instrument is exactly used for such? he questioned. This was also echoed by Shiselweni II MP Strydom Mpanza, who wanted to know what the determinant or yardstick to measure the fines was.


He further emphasised that the ministry needed to re-commit itself to the consultation process and engage the actual cultivators of the habit-forming drug before presenting it in Parliament. Siphocosini MP Mduduzi Matsebula, in his submission, immediately highlighted that he was not familiar with marijuana and would not accurately describe it, however he said he knew there were emaSwati who provided for families through its cultivation.  He stated that although it was evident that the times had changed and E40 was too little a fine as it was now 2022, the ministry should be cognisant that there are emaSwati who are making a living and sustaining families and communities with dagga farming. “Government should clearly state how this industry is tampering on its tax collection as there is nothing that has been done to indicate that it does.” He stated that there was a need to significantly decrease the fines.  “Most of the people working in these fields make above the minimum wage at the end of the day, which demonstrates that emaSwati are able to survive through farming dagga,” said Matsebula.

He said the Bill should be tabled in Parliament so that they would be able to scrutinise it and make the necessary amendments to allow for emaSwati to continue benefitting from the habit-forming drug. Shiselweni I MP Sipho Mndzebele was of the thought that the Bill should be deferred as it would cause unnecessary tension and upheaval.  However, Motshane MP Robert Magongo stated that the Bill should be brought before Parliament so that the fines could be amended and further decreased. Zakhele Magongo Nkhaba MP declared out rightly that he wanted no part in the passing of this Bill and did not want to be listed as part of the MPs who passed the Bill.

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