There are probably 30 to 40 constitutionally sound private cannabis clubs (PCC’s) operating in South Africa with the full knowledge of the police. However, one of them is taking the heat for the industry in what is a test case for the future of recreational or adult use consumption.
“Our future is in the hands of the courts”
“It’s scary” says Neil Liddell, The Haze Club director who is facing criminal charges after police closed down the PCC’s grow operation last year. “I guess my head is on the block, but if there is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that there should be a high court ruling that will finally give clarity on where grow clubs stand with the law. Our future is in the hands of the courts”.
Liddell was speaking publicly for the first time since his arrest in October 2020, appearing on a grow club webinar hosted by Cannabis Organization University of Pretoria (COUP) on 23 June 2021. During the webinar, grow club pioneer Kobus Schoeman of In to Africa, said there were 15 PCC’s that he’d helped get off the ground and at least another 15 that were on the verge of being legally constituted.
“I must be the only happy guy when tax season comes around” Schoeman told the webinar. Because we show we are tax compliant, paying UIF for grow staff salaries and VAT on lease fees”. He said there were strict compliance protocols involved in establishing a PCC and that two of the clubs he’d helped get off the ground had been closed because they couldn’t stick to their own rules.
SA has opportunity to showcase new grow club models
Schoeman said there were a variety of grow club models that could be legal but his preference was for a Non-Profit Pty company that had a geographical base and a limit to the number of members. He said the concept of incorporating stokvels and PCC’s could be explored.
“We have a strong model that borrows from international best practice, is adapted to Africa and is legally sound. We could be world leaders in pioneering the concept of private grow clubs if only we could showcase what we do. We are very excited for the times ahead, we are in a very important time, a time when the government has to reply to the needs of the industry to take it forward.”
Government’s reply to The Haze Club’s insistence that its operations are legal, has been a justification of prosecution on extremely narrow legal grounds. The THC case has been put on hold pending the anticipated High Court ruling which has been delayed until September 2021 at the earliest. In the meantime the online club has been closed down and its grow equipment confiscated.
In terms of the law, THC nothing more than ‘a niche garden service’
Liddell’s lawyer Andrew MacPherson of Ward Brink Attorneys said THC’s operation was similar to a “niche garden service”; in which the club never owned the plant. Members provided the seeds which were then grown, dried and cured by specialists on behalf of members, and then delivered to them.
MacPherson said the justice system was taking the view in the THC case that cultivation could only be done by the end user. “The absurdities jump off the page. What if you’re a paraplegic, or live in an informal settlement with no privacy; what if you’re working long hours and can’t put the time into your home grow; what if you’re a hopeless gardener?”
During the COUP webinar, Professor Tom Decorte, Professor of Criminology at the University of Ghent in Belgium, warned that PCC’s would always be vulnerable in societies where there was an absence of regulation. He cited how PCC’s in Belgium had thrived a decade ago, but had been closed down because of increasingly authoritarian attitudes.
“Get as much legal protection as you can” was his advice to SA cannabis activists, “because you’ll never have the long-term security of political protection”.