Cannabis court case set to determine the legality of private grow clubs around the country

By Chelsea Geach Time of article published Nov 14, 2020

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Cape Town - The future of cannabis grow clubs hangs in the balance as a local duo prepare to challenge their arrest and charges of drug trafficking in court.

The Haze Club (THC) is an Ottery-based business that describes itself as “South Africa’s first 100% legal premium growing service”.

It was raided by police and its two owners arrested in last month. They are currently out on bail and, together with two legal firms, are preparing to defend the legality of their business in a case which will have wide-reaching consequences for the cannabis industry and community across South Africa.

THC is one of many grow clubs in the Western Cape, which all operate under a similar model: Members pay a monthly membership fee and supply seeds or plant clones, and the club experts then grow the plant to maturity, harvest and dry the cannabis, and deliver the finished product back to the member.

As explained on the THC website: “To comply with the law, individual areas in the club’s grow facility are demarcated and leased to its members – thereby making it their private space. The club simply assists members in exercising their constitutional right to grow cannabis in their own private space.”

From the club’s perspective, they lease out a plot and provide a gardening service at a cost of R949 per month for a premium membership. However, provincial police raided the facility as an illegal operation and confiscated all the equipment and plant material.

“An intelligence-driven operation led provincial detectives, the Narcotic Unit and the Flying Squad to a business park in Ferndale Drive, Ottery, where a hydroponic cannabis laboratory comprising of dagga drying equipment and various dagga plants valued at around R82 200 was uncovered,” police said in a statement at the time.

“Four cooling units transformed into hot houses, fully equipped with plants in various stages of cultivation, were found. The equipment, the plants and a substantial amount of dried cannabis were confiscated. A duo aged 33 and 36 were arrested on charges of drug trafficking.”

The Haze Club and its owners are being represented by Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH) attorneys as well as Schindlers Attorneys who are assisting on a pro-bono basis.

Paul-Michael Keichel of Schindlers Attorneys said they believe that if grow clubs are operated within strict confines, they are within the law and align with the intentions of the Constitutional Court.

“The implication is that, if we are successful in this case, as we think that we will be, it would be a clear message to the SAPS and the NPA that they are to leave legal grow clubs (and their members) alone. No more ‘war’ on cannabis users,” Keichel said.

It’s impossible to estimate how many grow clubs are already in operation around the country, but if THC’s case is successful, it will be a leap forward for not only club owners, but for cannabis lovers who don’t have the space or the gardening know-how to grow their own at home, as they are entitled to.

“If the model survives judicial scrutiny, as we predict that it will, this will be a ‘green light’ for those wishing either to start a legitimate club, or to join one as a member,” Keichel said.

“Not all members of the cannabis community enjoy sufficient private space to exercise their new right to grow cannabis, just as not all of them have green fingers.”

“The grow club model would allow those people to exercise the same rights as those who do have private space and cannabis grow know-how.”

Fields of Green for All, a cannabis legal advocacy organisation, clarified on their website that Dagga Private Clubs should be community initiatives.

“The main motivation behind opening a dagga private club should be to provide for a need of your community. It is on the Constitutional Court’s Privacy Judgement that the whole concept of a dagga private club is based. It’s a private community, evolving through word of mouth. If you must, compare it to a swingers club – we know they’re out there, but they don’t necessarily advertise on the radio.”

It is not clear whether The Haze Club subscribes to these values. Efforts to reach the owners of club were unsuccessful.

They are due to appear in Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on January 21.

Weekend Argus

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