Situated within a verdant suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, an educational institution embellished with green foliage on its walls imparts knowledge to students on the cultivation of cannabis, notwithstanding the prohibition of marijuana consumption on the premises. The establishment, branding itself as Africa's inaugural cannabis academy, endeavors to mitigate the societal stigma associated with cannabis.
The co-founder of Cheeba Cannabis Academy expresses to Africanews the necessity to professionalize the cannabis industry and dispel prevailing stereotypes, emphasizing the commitment to demonstrate that participants are not merely characterized as individuals with red eyes, perennially extolling the virtues of the substance. The academy seeks to leverage the evolving global reconsideration of cannabis regulations, observing the increasing number of governments, spanning from Spain to California, permitting cannabis consumption.
In Africa, Lesotho paved the way for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis in 2017, influencing countries such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, and South Africa, the latter aspiring to establish itself as a prominent player in the cannabis market. President Cyril Ramaphosa's endorsement of cannabis as possessing “huge potential” for investment and job creation has garnered attention in a country grappling with economic challenges and soaring unemployment rates.
Named after a colloquial term for marijuana, the Cheeba Cannabis Academy is diligently preparing its students to participate in the anticipated economic boom. Commencing the school day with a holistic approach, incorporating yoga sessions and covering diverse subjects such as business, nutrition, and futurism, the academy strives to provide a comprehensive education.
Within the academy's laboratory, students, clad in white coats, engage in practical sessions under the guidance of dedicated instructors. Darian Jacobsen, an impassioned cultivation teacher, imparts pruning techniques and practical tips, fostering a nuanced understanding of cannabis cultivation. The academy, which transitioned from online classes in 2020 to its current physical premises in the previous year, offers a flagship 12-week course at a cost of approximately $1,600.
Having trained approximately 600 individuals, the academy seeks governmental support to navigate the uncertain regulatory landscape surrounding cannabis. Despite the government's mandate for parliament to formulate legislation, delays have led to considerable confusion regarding permissible activities, as noted by Simon Howell, a researcher at the University of Cape Town.
While the sale of cannabis outside the medical realm remains unlawful, cannabis clubs, where members pay for plant maintenance services, have proliferated, testing the legal boundaries in the country. The government has issued numerous licenses for hemp and medical cannabis cultivation, yet the industry faces challenges in gaining traction, with obstacles hindering export potential.
South Africa, in theory, possesses the prerequisites to emerge as a major cannabis exporter, boasting lower costs, ample land, favorable weather, and experienced growers. However, critics contend that the current licensing system excludes small farmers who have cultivated cannabis illicitly for decades, with prohibitive initial costs. Additionally, pharmaceutical experts, including cannabis entrepreneur Johann Slabber, highlight challenges faced by larger growers, unable to meet European standards for export.
Despite these challenges, optimism persists within the industry, driven by the projected exponential growth of the global cannabis market. Estimates suggest the market could reach up to $272 billion by 2028, with South Africa's share expected to surge from $5 million in 2021 to $22 million in 2026, according to Insight Survey.
Anticipating a surge in demand for specialized workers, other educational providers are entering the fray alongside Cheeba, reflecting a collective belief in the burgeoning potential of the cannabis industry.