Dagga oil saved my life, says mum with cancer
It's illegal, but easy to get hold of if you're willing to break law
Kelly McQue went cold when her doctor told her she had breast cancer, realising that she could die a painful death like her grandfather.
But the Ballito mother was determined not to suffer like her grandfather had under a regime of often brutal chemotherapy and radiation. She turned instead to cannabis oil.
By going the illegal route, McQue joined many South Africans who use off-the-books cannabis products.
There are just four people in South Africa using marijuana legally, having had their treatment approved by the Medicines Control Council.
"I had seen my grandfather go through the accepted ways of treating cancer, and I knew that it was not for me. I wanted to live," McQue said.
While using dagga remains outlawed, that does not mean you cannot get it. A blackmarket weed industry is flourishing. From oils to balms, cannabis products can be bought online, or on the sly from many health shops.
And if you can't find it, you can just make it, like McQue did.
She trawled the web for a how-to guide and, by trial and error, made the first batch of cannabis oil in her kitchen. It was this black substance, technically illegal, which she said saved her life.
"An old family friend had gone though the wringer with renal cancer and chemotherapy. The treatment caused him to go blind and he had given up. He agreed to do it with me and we treated our cancers together," she said.
Within months, she claimed, they were both in remission."It took us about eight months to get the all clear. I was very excited because I saw what happened with my grandfather.
"With that came the realisation that if I could do it, anyone could. These products are everywhere. It used to just be the oil, now it is balms and coconut infusions.
"I feel that the law is incorrect, so there is no grey area for me. If I get caught I am in trouble, but ethically I have no problem," she said.
While this underground market flourishes, the Department of Health has moved into a final public consultation phase that could lead to medicinal marijuana being available for doctors to prescribe.
The Medical Innovation Bill, opened for public comment in 2016, was first put forward by IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini during his own fight with cancer. He died in 2014.
If the bill goes through, weed would be regulated like any other medication.
The bill, along with a judgment handed down in the High Court in Cape Town this year, might be the beginning of decriminalising the personal use of dagga. It could signify a changing tide for cannabis users.
The Medicines Control Council, which governs the medical use of cannabis, has in the past five years approved only four permits for doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis products.'Cannabis Queen' ripe to go industrial
If dagga does get legalised, Rastafarian Thandeka Kunene is perhaps best poised to cash in on the lucrative cannabis trade.
The "Cannabis Queen of the South" and her co-operative of investors have a 3ha greenhouse outside Durban, ready to grow the still-illicit buds.
"I am getting ready. The government has announced they are legalising cannabis. It just takes time," she said from inside the empty greenhouse, outfitted with state-of-the-art irrigation technology that grew thousands of cannabis plants under a one-year research permit from the health department.
The potential cash boon is real. Cannabis oil alone can sell for as much as R130,000 a kilogram.
"We were going to look at hemp fibre first. When you eventually get down to hemp fibre, after everything is processed you can sell it for R20 a kilogram. Then we discovered the seeds and we thought this is where the money is because we established that the hemp seeds will sell for R200 a kilogram," she said.