Is it a pipe dream to think that it'll be legal to sell dagga in SA stores?

Hans Mackenzie Main examines the changing attitudes to marijuana since that confusing ConCourt ruling made it cool for personal use

24 March 2019 - 00:05 By Hans Mackenzie Main
At last, the weed revolution has made it to our shores.
At last, the weed revolution has made it to our shores.
Image: Alexandre Chambon/

We met on a mountain. In a car. I called it spliff back then - a word I thought rolled off the tongue much easier than the consonant-heavy "dagga" and "ganja".

There was soon great laughter in the cabin and a growing sense that the world was indeed a wonderful place to live in. I remember the drive back to civilisation to be slow. I remember the cabin light being on for the length of the journey, and the sense of wonder experienced on the mountain fading as the scenes changed from rural to suburban.

I remember making it back to our lair and basking in the light of a naked hallway lightbulb, waiting for the wonder to return.

As first dates go, I considered it a success and met up with old Spliff many times after.

Our hook-ups grew brazen and defiant, taking place on relative pedestals such as underneath the fountain on Piccadilly Square and in the bowels of a packed Newlands rugby stadium. I smoked Spliff in giant form holding joints like cigarettes, pinching the cone-shaped baton between index and middle finger for all to see - a one-man movement for change risking it all for the greater good.

Spliff and I have parted since the love affair shone too bright for too long. It was pointless and reckless blowing smoke up to the winged Anteros hoping my love for weed would be somehow requited. It wasn't and my character, at the time and still, was ill-suited for the rigours of prison. Besides, the revolution was under way and would soon bear fruit.

Promotional poster for 'Devil's Harvest', an exploitation film directed by Ray Test depicting the evils of marijuana, 1942.
Promotional poster for 'Devil's Harvest', an exploitation film directed by Ray Test depicting the evils of marijuana, 1942.
Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

That was decades ago.

Last year the revolution made it to our shores, embodied by a tentative recommendation sent via the constitutional court to parliament, presumably via e-mail. I read the very meaty recommendation, skimming over the countless "his or hers" and "he or shes" to decipher the gist to be that "possession of cannabis in private or cultivation of cannabis in a private place for personal consumption in private is no longer a criminal offence".

Low-hanging fruit. But fruit nonetheless.

That the call for legalisation spearheaded by ardent users has come this far is quite frankly astonishing. From experience, I know that to smoke a joint is to end a day prematurely as plans make way for reflection, and a strong desire for everyone to just chill out.

Not that the rest of the recreational drug community has rested on their laurels. The other day, browsing the merchandise in my courageously open-minded bookshop, I came across a tome with, between its very hard, very thick covers, entire sentences and paragraphs proposing LSD as a cure for alcoholism.

Two wrongs, in other words, making a right. I didn't buy the book - with plastic to cover its cover it costs a fortune - but stood for as long as my conscience would allow reading through the illuminating pages. It was riveting, revelatory stuff - backed up and cross referenced and was said, very credibly, to come on the back of a renewed interest in psychedelics now that counter-culture has subsided somewhat. Ken Kesey must be tripping in his grave.

I asked dagga (shall we call it cannabis instead?) smokers and non-cannabis smokers what they thought of the latest developments, limiting my questions to the mild-mannered plant so as to not scare anyone away.

One respondent, a cannabis grower, estimated the income potential of cannabis as way beyond that of the wine industry. Another grower (independent from the previous grower) built on the wine analogy, albeit veering from economics, saying five drunks will start a fight whereas five stoners will start a band.

Surprisingly, a professor in economics claimed to have "no idea" on matters relating to a pack of Durban Poison T Mild appearing on the shelves next to Peter Stuyvesant at the supermarket kiosk.

The religious group didn't reply in length, merely stating they haven't developed a well-articulated response on the subject yet, in itself a very well-articulated response.

According to Graeme Bird, co-founder and MD of Poison City Brewing, the law is very clear on where it stands with cannabis. "In terms of the Drugs Act, products containing THC (cannabis's psycho-active component) are illegal.

"The only grey area relates to the Constitutional Court ruling associated to the use of cannabis by adults in a private space. In this respect the laws need to be changed and clarified to reflect aspects like how much cannabis can be grown by an individual, how much cannabis can an adult be in possession of and what is defined as a private space."

A Durban Poison Cannabis Lager from Poison City Brewing.
A Durban Poison Cannabis Lager from Poison City Brewing.
Image: Instagram

Bird's company produces "Durban's dopest beer" - a beverage with cannabis leaves on its label. Underneath the leaves it states, 'CONTAINS NO THC' (yes, all caps). The SAPS in the Western Cape is struggling to see past the leaves, however, and has told a selection of liquor stores they can't stock it.

And therein lies the dilemma, for cannabis still belongs to that most diabolical class of drugs used for, of all things, recreational purposes.

Unlike nicotine and alcohol, no extensive research has been done on recreational drugs, cannabis specifically, other than that conducted by its most ardent followers who, regrettably, have little data to show for their efforts.

It simply isn't known whether THC causes psychosis and schizophrenia, for instance. But even if that is the case, wouldn't it make sense to simply apply a warning label on cannabis products ("may cause craziness", perhaps, I don't know) as with alcohol and nicotine, and let the grown-ups decide for themselves how to go about their sanity?

It can take several minutes to roll an exemplary joint; much longer when pips, sticks and debris (indicating poor quality and a severe lack of understanding of basic cultivation principles on the part of the grower) have to be separated - like wheat from chaff - shaking the weed rhythmically on a piece of newspaper, folding said newspaper and gently decanting the chaff through the V formed by the rag into a container.

Minds and laws are not changed overnight. The debate on what counts as private and personal use and what not - the very definition of what it means to "dwell" - may very well still rage on for many years to come in our fair land.

Is a backpack filled with cannabis too much for personal use? Is half a backpack too much? Can personal use be stretched over many weeks, even months? How long, indeed, is a piece of string? We might never know.


9 Pound Hammer: Telling it like it is, 9 Pound Hammer descends from Gooberry, Hells OG and Jack the Ripper. As expected, effects are heavy and long-lasting.

Cheese: A great pairing for most reds (and whites), Cheese is known for its sharp, sour aroma with origins that stretch back to the late '80s. Gently eases you into a blissful state of being.

Grape Ape: Despite its name, Grape Ape has sedative effects that include relaxation, sleep and happiness. Known for its distinct grape-like smell and deep-purple buds.

Visitors check out the artwork at the opening of the International Church of Cannabis in Denver, Colorado, in the USA.
Visitors check out the artwork at the opening of the International Church of Cannabis in Denver, Colorado, in the USA.
Image: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

Red Headed Stranger: An energizing strain and homage to the 1975 album by legendary, low-energy Willie Nelson. Said to offer a "jolt of cerebral vigour that fuels creativity and focus".

Chernobyl: Descendant of Trainwreck, Jack the Ripper and Trinity. As its name suggests, Chernobyl is long-lasting and mind-melting with a surprising lime sherbet taste.

Headband: Said to deliver a "potent stony high", the strain's name refers to the pressure that builds around the user's temples as it dilates blood vessels in the face.