Tumi Moleko-Nkomo worked in the television industry for the longest time. But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, her work dried up. She was forced to look at alternative methods of income and decided to turn her passion for making cannabis edibles into a business.
“When Covid hit, productions came to a halt so there wasn’t much going on. I was really bored because I’m somebody who likes to stay very busy,” Moleko Nkomo remembers. She started thinking about the things she enjoys doing just to occupy her time.
It then occurred to her that she often makes cannabis edibles for her friends and family, and that making edibles during a stressful event like the pandemic helped aid many people in easing their anxiety.
“The anxiety of not knowing what’s going on or what’s going to happen … people losing things. It seemed to help with their anxiety and just to mellow them out and take the edge off.”
The legislation around selling cannabis and cannabis-infused products is still being developed. This is why, when Moleko-Nkomo decided that she wants to sell her products, the first person she consulted was her lawyer.
“I went online and did a bit of research. I realised that there isn’t much in terms of regulation and that the government was really slow on the uptake with everything cannabis related. And so I spoke to my lawyer. He just said ‘well, these are the legalities behind it. They’re not quite clear.”
How to fund a cannabis business?
Moleko-Nkomo is the owner of iCanna, an online edibles business where she sells cannabis-infused teas, baked goods and tinctures. She sources cannabis from a licensed grower, and ships her product across the country.
“I don’t grow my own cannabis because I live in a complex. I really don’t have that kind of space. But I do work with the grower out in Brits. Every week, he’ll deliver what I need to get production going, which is always a lot less than what I actually need. We stay within the 1.2kg regulation.”
Outside of the produce limitation, Moleko-Nkomo says one of her biggest challenges is a lack of financing. Unclear legislation around cannabis and conservative views exclude cannabis businesses from traditional financing.
“I have so many ideas on how I’d like to grow the business and the directions in which I’d like to take it. But it’s just so expensive to set up. From the lawyers that I would need to have, to the property. The whole setup of it is really, really quite expensive.”
Another challenge Moleko-Nkomo points out is that the unclear legislation around cannabis leaves cannabis businesses unprotected. She says since she started her business, she has experienced harassment from people, but has been unable to go to the police.
“People don’t understand how cannabis isn’t just that thing that you do in a backyard alley. It’s actually a lifestyle. It’s such a dynamic plant, but people still have very backward views on it
“So it’s very difficult to report some of these things that happen. The government [needs to] get their act together and actually put clear legislation in place for cannabis dealers and people like me who make so many different products out of cannabis. If there’s clear legislation, we become more protected. Right now, we’re just really flapping in the breeze and waiting for people to figure out what they’re doing.”
Creating an inclusive industry
Despite unclear legislation, South Africa’s cannabis industry is growing. However, Moleko-Nkomo says that it has already become an industry that excludes black people. Steep start-up costs serves as a barrier to entry to many people.
“It makes it difficult for people who don’t come from wealth, or from some sort of privilege, to be able to break into the industry at the level that they’re at. [The wealthy] are able to pay for these expensive licenses quite easily.”
She says that many black cannabis business owners are now looking at ways to establish a more inclusive, black-owned arm of the industry, something she is happy to see.
“As it stands now, the people that were able to buy these licenses and get these licenses in time, before we clocked what’s going on, are so far ahead and they’ve really closed ranks. And we have no other choice but to do our own thing. So, the sense of community is there within black cannabis dealers, and I’m grateful for that.”
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