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‘Private Can Be Collective’: Legalizing Private Cannabis Clubs Can Be a Community ‘Harms Reduction’ Policy Tool

‘Private Can Be Collective’: Legalizing Private Cannabis Clubs Can Be a Community ‘Harms Reduction’ Policy Tool

Brett Hilton Barber

25 May 2022, 22:00:00

Non-profit PCC’s the way to go

Non-profit PCC’s the way to go

Private cannabis clubs (PCC’s) could easily be incorporated into the new Cannabis Bill if they were registered non-profit organizations. And the concept of private clubs should be extended to communal grows in rural areas.

These constitutionally fundamental recommendations were put to Parliament’s Justice and Correctional Servicers Portfolio Committee on 24 May 2022 by PCC expert Marlene Theunissen of Cradlestone Quality Solutions. She said PCC’s were not a new phenomenon and that other countries, such as Spain and Malta, had incorporated such associations into law from a human rights perspective.

“Not everyone has access to privacy. It’s arbitrary, unfair and discriminatory if the only cannabis consumers who benefit from the Bill are those who can afford to grow for private use” she said.

She said that state lawmakers could easily join the 2018 Prince Privacy judgement with the freedom of association enshrined in Section 18 of the Bill of Rights. She said that Section 39 (2) of the Constitution, which “must promote the spirit and purport of the Bill of Rights”.

“The point is, private can be collective’. Theunissen said there were two basic PCC models:

  • Personal/private – clubs grow on behalf of an individual;

  • Shared/collective – clubs grow on behalf of others – a stokvel arrangement that would suit traditional communities;

PCC’s should be seen as friends not enemies

She said the revised Bill did not make any allowance for PCC’s and this was likely to end up in predictable court action. “A court would take note of the Bill of Rights which should enable cannabis users to safely access quality cannabis for private use in a safe environment”.

Her views are echoed by lawyer Andrew MacPherson of Ward Brink, who said there was a danger that the legal status of PCC’s could remain in a grey zone for years until such time as new over-arching cannabis legislation was introduced as envisaged in the National Cannabis Master Plan (NCMP). MachPherson is the lawyer who’s bringing the Cape High Court application to recognize the legality of PCC’s on behalf of The Haze Club’s (THC) director Neil Liddell.

This has been one of the main arguments in favour of PCC’s, that they have the potential to be ‘harms-reduction’ mechanisms by ‘ring-fencing’ cannabis users and giving them an alternative to having to ‘score on the street’.

There are an estimated 40 properly-constituted PCC’s in South Africa, most operating with the sanction of local police station commanders. These PCC’s all appear to be within the ambit of South Africa’s constitutional guidelines of restricting cannabis use to private spaces, yet the CPPB specifically outlaws PCC’s. Senior state law advisor Sarel Robbertse, said as much, while SAPS views PCC’s as fronts for illegal trafficking.

Liddell is taking it for the team

The man who’s been caught between the rubber and the road is THC director Neil Liddell, who set up South Africa’s first PCC.  THC believed it was operating within the law by supplying members at its Cape Town club from its Ottery grow op. Police thought otherwise, closed it down in October 2020 and prosecuted Liddell and an employee on drug dealing charges. 

The State has agreed to hold off on pursuing the case until the Cape High Court hears Liddell’s application to have his arrest declared unlawful and for the legality of PCC’s to be recognized. The case is finally coming up on 6 June 2022 after several postponements.

“What we are essentially seeking is to make social growing clubs legal” Liddell’s lawyer, Andrew MacPherson told Cannabiz Africa on 6 May 2022.

“Our argument is that the way the THC private cannabis club model was implemented did not break any law and the criminal case should be dropped. That would create a precedent that the THC model was legal.”

He said If the court went in this direction it would  immediately bring legal clarity to the other 40 or so allegedly legal PCC’s believed to be operating in the country. He said that if the court found against the application, the Constitutional Court was the next option to “cure a constitutional defect in the law”.

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