There is a lot of hope fixed on the partial legalisation of cannabis as the key to unlocking large-scale job creation, positive economic growth and the upliftment of low-income communities.
Just be careful of the “Green Rush” hype, warns Trenton Birch, the CEO of the Cheeba Academy, an institution dedicated to cannabis education, shifting stigma and dispelling common misconceptions about the controversial herb.
This is not an industry where you can get rich quickly, says Birch. Slow and steady will win the race towards unlocking opportunities in cannabis, especially for small-scale producers.
Birch unpacked available opportunities for small-scale producers, and to clarify legislative hurdles for Mzansi farmers that are intrigued by cannabis production.
1. Slow and steady wins the race
Growing cannabis for medicinal reasons require sizeable funding and facilities that are not easily accessible for small-scale growers, explains Birch.
With no legal recreational market, anyone growing “independently for this market is doing so illegally.”
“The irony of the current status quo is that we have been growing cannabis successfully in South Africa and exporting it across the globe for decades.
“So, we have the skills, the climate, the genetics, and the work force, but the process of legitimising all these growers is incredibly slow and cumbersome.”
2. Have you heard of cannabis clubs?
An area that seems to be opening up for small growers is the opportunity to grow for private cannabis clubs.
Birch explains that cannabis clubs have been set up to help ensure all South Africans have access to cannabis for personal and private consumption.
This is in line with a ground-breaking Constitutional Court ruling in September 2018 that the prohibition of the personal use and cultivation of cannabis, by adults, in private spaces is unconstitutional.
Birch says, “Those members who do not have the skill, facility, or time to grow themselves, effectively outsource their rights to a grower who is also a member of the club.
“This allows growers to charge for their labour, to grow the plants and the member then compensates the grower for their time through the club.”
Birch is hopeful that government will initiate a co-operative model where anyone can grow their product and distribute it within a hub that facilitates quality control and standards.
Want to get funding for a cannabis farm? Sign up now to receive the free Farmer’s Inside Track newsletter in your inbox every Wednesday. It includes funding opportunities, and much more.
3. Looking for a quick buck?
Anyone trying to make a quick buck should really look to other sectors, says Birch.
“This whole ‘green rush’ term that keeps being bandied around is highly disruptive to the industry. It is attracting the wrong people who see it as a ‘get rich quick’ opportunity and are therefore in it for the wrong reasons.”
That is not to say that there is not money to be made. Several ancillary businesses are thriving, from grow stores, nutrient companies and cannabis accessory stores.
“It is a long and committed game and those entering should be prepared for a slog as we navigate an uncertain regulatory framework,” he says.
“The ‘Green Rush’ term is highly disruptive to the industry. it is attracting the wrong people who see it as a ‘get rich quick’ opportunity.”
4. Jumping legislative hoops
You really need to put your head down and research and understand the current legal framework before you start out in the cannabis space, advises Birch.
Also, you need an understanding of the full cannabis value chain to help you figure out what area of the industry attracts you. “It is a deep and complex industry with many facets and areas, so research and development and educating yourself is key.”
“Cannabis is not a silver bullet for everyone and everything.”
Birch adds, “The trick in any industry is to do your research. If you are convinced it is the right industry for you, then you start. But be prepared to work hard, the cannabis industry is very dynamic and exciting, so a lot of people are keen to join it.”
5. But can you be a canna-warrior?
There are many stigmas associated with cannabis. As a prospective cannabis producer, you should be prepared to go to the ends to dispel myths surrounding the plant. First, a producer should not be afraid to try cannabis, believes Birch.
He also believes that the risks involved in trying the plant is low.
“From a medicinal perspective, simply do the research. Cannabis is not a silver bullet for everyone and everything, but its medical benefits are well known, and the research and facts speak for themselves,” he explains.
“Cannabis can help people. It is non-toxic and we have been lied to by governments and regulatory bodies for decades,” Birch says.
“In ten years, we will look back and realise how ridiculous it was that something so good for us was criminalised. The only way to dispel the myths is to educate people, which is a tough task after all the prohibition and misinformation, but it is coming and it’s coming fast.”
6. Fast tips for breaking into the industry
- Educate yourself on what cannabis is and how it works with our bodies. It is not just about getting high.
- Expand your network. This is your net worth and without it you simply cannot move forward and break into any industry.
- Go out, buy some products and try them.
- Watch Craft Cannabis TV on YouTube.
- Attend a cannabis event (where possible) or join one online.