Goitse Konopi’s life’s mission is to make quality medical cannabis accessible to all, especially cancer patients. Although that was not his childhood dream.
At 19, soon after school, he was already working at a government-affiliated tech company in South Africa. He rose to become the chief data officer of the startup. He was also part of the teams in the Presidency that developed the National Development Plan and Vision 2030 for the country.
Everything looked good, career-wise, until 2013 when his health-conscious mother was down with cancer and eventually passed away. Goitse was determined to help other cancer patients stay alive and also beat other ailments. He believes the solution lay in Cannabis. Therefore, he invested all his savings, together with other people’s funds, in his startup.
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In 2014, he founded South Grown, a cannabis company that scientifically cultivates, processes and manufactures cannabis-based products. In this interview with Business Elites Africa, Goitse elucidates his mission and his strategy to succeed in this highly regulated industry.
BEA: You started your company 4 years before Cannabis was legalized for private use in South Africa, why?
Goitse: It was due to my mother’s terminal illness. She was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2013. At that time, her oncologist suggested that we tried cannabis oil to supplement her treatment plan. All the products we found were non-regulated and inconsistent in terms of quality and availability.
So between 2014 and 2017 when the guidelines and regulations were released, I began traveling and researching, to simply experience what the industry looks like in different parts of the world. We started conceptually in 2014 and moved from there to start the process of understanding and following the guidelines and regulations that were put into motion by the government.
BEA: To be clear, did the Cannabis-based treatment for your mom work?
Goitse: Yes. The Cannabis oil was beneficial for her as an appetite stimulant. As a side effect of the chemotherapy, she lost her appetite and that is a key part of how cancer progresses.
As you are treating one side of the ailment, you are also creating a problem on the other side. And that’s where our core focus is as a company. We’re focused on the pharmaceutical aspect of cannabis, but in the first place we are also rolling out consumer products – Cannabinoids (CBD) products that are descheduled.
Our focus, however, is on the active pharmaceutical ingredients that you get from CBD. In Africa, we have CBD such as THCv which is an appetite suppressant and THC which stimulates your appetite. So part of what we are doing is to fully understand these compounds to create a really clear clinical trial pipeline.
We are following the same process as the way drugs and pharmaceutical products have been historically created and made available. We have to go through drug discovery, phase 1a clinical trials, phase 1b to phase 3 and then post-trial evaluation and monitoring and all of that. So we’re following the entire pipeline to make medical cannabis accessible.
Cannabis regulation in South Africa
BEA: It was legalized for private use but your company is in business for the commercial use of it, can you clarify that?
Goitse: So it’s legal for personal cultivation in your own private home and the personal possession and consumption in your personal environment is legal, although there is a restriction around the number of plants and all of that.
But there is also a clear regulatory environment for medical cannabis, which is cannabis that is cultivated, processed and manufactured for medical purposes. This is not only in South Africa, it’s the same in multiple jurisdictions…