Dagga grow club model goes up in smoke

Fields of Green for All outside the high court sitting. Picture: Supplied

Fields of Green for All outside the high court sitting. Picture: Supplied

Published Sep 5, 2022


Pretoria - While it’s legal to grow cannabis in your garden and light up a smoke at home, it is a definite no-no when it comes to a grow club.

People involved in this model lease a patch of land alongside other like-minded people and have it taken care of by those with the know-how.

The High Court sitting in Cape Town put its foot down when the Haze Club and its director, Neil Liddell, wanted it to rule that it was legal to grow cannabis on behalf of others.

Liddell argued that, given the groundbreaking Constitutional Court judgment in 2018, which ruled that an adult may lawfully cultivate and possess cannabis for his or her personal consumption in a private space, the concept of a grow club should also be legal.

He and one of his employees, Ben van Houten, were however arrested in 2020 at the Cape Town business where they grew cannabis on behalf of customers.

Their plants and dried cannabis – said to be worth around R1 million rand – was seized.

The grow club model is a socialised system of cannabis cultivation where Liddell and the Haze Club rent out private space to members by means of a sub-lease.

The members grow their own cannabis for personal consumption, while employing Liddell and his staff as experts in this field to attend to the cultivation of the plants.

They say given the 2018 judgment, they regarded this concept to be legal. According to them, given the grow club model, the cannabis never changes hands and it is purely for the consumption of the owner of the patch of land on which it is grown.

Liddell said growing cannabis was a specialised business and by joining a grow club, members could enjoy the fruits of well-grown cannabis, without them having the skills themselves.

Each member leases a patch of land which is clearly marked, although they grow side by side with each other. Each patch – belonging to different people – only harvests a small amount of cannabis, just enough for private consumption. The seeds would be grown, dried and cured in each member’s growing area, the court was told.

According to Liddell, there are strict rules in place, which include that once the harvest is ready for consumption, members will fetch it themselves or it will be couriered to their personal addresses.

The Haze Club uses the “sea of green” growing technique, which yields about 30 grams of dried cannabis.

Liddell said the cultivation occurred privately and the Haze Club only derived income from cultivating the seeds. The members also provide the seeds, thus, he said, they were not dealing in cannabis.

The SAPS, which opposed this application, saw the matter differently and argued that the grow club model contravened the Drugs Act.

According to the SAPS, the Concourt judgment only allowed for the private cultivation of cannabis by an adult for his or her own private consumption; it did not allow for the cultivation of the green leaves by someone else. Therefore, the police said, the grow club model was illegal.

Judge Hayley Slingers agreed with this argument and she said the grow club model had the potential to cultivate cannabis on a large scale, and to generate huge amounts of money.

“In view of the shared characteristics between a dealer of cannabis and the grow-club model, the limitation on the applicants’ right to choose a trade as a cannabis grow club or cannabis horticulturist was reasonable,” the judge said.

She added that allowing the applicants, by way of a grow club, to cultivate cannabis on a large scale for consumption by others for remuneration, it would amount to condoning dealing in it.

The judge said the Constitutional Court recognised that dealing in cannabis was a serious problem in our country. She said giving the green light to the grow club model could have the practical effect of legalising dealing in cannabis.

Judge Slingers also pointed out that the police and the government, in opposing this application, denied that growing cannabis required a special skill. They said it could cheaply be grown outside in pots and under the sunlight.

Thus, she said those who wanted to privately use it, including grow club members, could grow it themselves without outsourcing it.

Pretoria News