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INNOVATION AND ADVOCACYAlthough tides are undoubtedly changing, one of the most prevalent barriers is the stigma that still surrounds cannabis use. Stigma and prohibition are the two key factors that have halted development in the sector for so long. This is changing with incredible progress and growth but ultimately, this ‘coming of age’ for cannabis could have occurred much earlier were it not for the plant’s political history. A repercussion of this stigma is a continued lack of harmonisation across Europe. The stance on cannabis is changing, but we are still far away from consistent legislation. This lack of regulatory clarity makes it difficult to find a clear path to compliance for advancing the industry in the correct way. This is a challenge for consumers and producers. Another challenge we face in the medical cannabis sector is the process of making cannabis look and feel like a medicine. A major barrier is that doctors do not feel comfortable prescribing cannabis flower due to a lack of consistency and the association with ‘recreational’ use. By addressing this, we can expand the acceptance of cannabis in the medical sphere, allowing production to flourish and most importantly, patients accessing safe and consistent doses.
How can collaboration and information sharing between regions, researchers and producers help to drive innovation and advocacy within the cannabis sector? Communication and information sharing will always be a good thing. What makes the cannabis sector so interesting and complex is how interdisciplinary it is. There is an intersection with research, agriculture, advocacy, business and medicine. In order to drive forward reform, all of these bodies must communicate. Keeping each other informed and understanding what best practice for policy could look like is incredibly resourceful. With developments progressing at pace, staying informed is undoubtedly helpful.
Demand and interest for cannabis is clearly growing. However, the South African market is not entirely reflective of this with large restrictions still in place. Different sectors working together is a recipe for a diverse and ideal environment to secure policy change and consumer access. Due to how complex this sector is, proposals need to be advised from a range of perspectives and disciplines. The more diverse the cannabis sector can be, through bringing together various groups, the more likely it is that we will see positive developments. All stakeholders must be communicating a clear and coherent narrative to drive forward innovation and advocacy. Innovation is key to driving the cannabis sector forward as a means of countering stigma associated with prohibition. Innovation is the antithesis of prohibition by bringing cannabis out of backward policy.
Innovation improves product quality, expands access and advances our understanding of cannabis. As the industry develops, an important realisation is that cannabis products are not a ‘one size fits all’ phenomenon. Consumers require access to appropriate products and catering to specific needs. Subtle differences in the way in administration and content can have a significant impact. Innovation is a way of expanding variety and giving consumers a greater amount of choice. It goes without saying that innovation advances our understanding of cannabis through scientific research. It is a mutually beneficial process – industry growth expands the knowledge for innovation and innovation helps expand the industry. One of the most impressive innovations for medical cannabis recently has been Kanabo’s VapePod. This is an incredible piece of technology for standardising medical cannabis dosing. A major roadblock for cannabis currently is a lack of standardisation in dosing, making it incredibly difficult to regulate from a medical perspective. The VapePod produces a metered dose providing exactly 1mg of cannabinoid extract, ensuring consistency which is impossible when smoking cannabis flower. This product ‘medicalises’ vaping, delivering the exact same product with the exact same dose every time. This is an important gateway for demonstrating the worthiness of cannabis innovation through making physicians feel more comfortable prescribing cannabis.
Another innovation that is important to highlight, although not a particular product, is the CBD industry itself. The cannabis industry has presented an exciting opportunity for innovation. The industry has become more dynamic as a result of CBD through normalising and educating new groups on the plant. CBD has been an immense player in rebranding cannabis to be associated with health and wellness. Impressive consumer numbers in South Africa show that the industry has been able to attract a larger and more varied consumer base. As a result of this, South Africa is left in a strong place for innovation because of CBD. We can expect continued and widespread expansion. Recent listings and investments are demonstrating clear appetite for cannabis. However, investment for the sake of investment and the hype that currently surrounds the sector is not sustainable. Over the next few years it will be about grounding development to ensure the industry being created is a sustainable one. Companies need to be in it for the long haul.
There is no doubt that the cannabis industry is going to be a major source of income, tax revenue and widespread job creation for a variety of skillsets. If we continue to welcome investment and innovation in the space we are preventing large players from monopolising the market, breeding diversity with a variety of products.