Canapax founder insists it is now legal to sell dagga in the country. Picture: Supplied

Cape Town - South Africa’s first dagga dispensaries are open for business, with around 70 branches already operating around the country.

Canapax founder Russell de Beer said he is legally allowed to sell dagga as medicine because he is a traditional healer and operates under the Traditional Health Practitioners Act.

Many entrepreneurs have jumped on the idea, paying De Beer R25 000 to open up their own Canapax stores.

In the shops, such as the branches in Stellenbosch and Kalk Bay, customers can browse jars of cured bud and pay per gram. This contains THC, can be smoked for a psychoactive effect, and is not broadly legal for trade - as opposed to CBD, which is not psychoactive and is legal for trade in certain concentrations.

Canapax customers are not required to have any consultation with a traditional healer, or to state any medical condition when purchasing cannabis.

“We have on our hands a medical emergency in South Africa,” De Beer said. “I’m trying to allow as many people as possible to self-medicate.”

In an interview with DQ Central, he said while cannabis is now decriminalised for personal growth and consumption, some people who would like to use it medicinally are not physically able to do the work of growing their own.

That is how Canapax came about.

Online reports suggest that multiple branches have been shut down by police and the stock seized. De Beer said that they have encountered problems from police, but only because they were not following the directive issued by the Saps to guide officers in the wake of decriminalisation.

“We do have rogue policemen who harass our shop owners,” he said. “They hold them in the holding cells for the first day. All the proceedings are an abuse of office. Most of the cases get dismissed and the cannabis gets returned.”

The price tag for opening up a Canapax branch is R25000 but De Beer said the stores are not franchises and are run by individual sole proprietors.

“You are buying into the Canapax intellectual property.”

He says these individuals, also referred to as “apprentices”, do not operate under the auspices of his standing as a traditional healer, but are rather qualified healers themselves.

When they sign up to open a Canapax store, they attend a short course with De Beer and he then qualifies them as traditional healers.

“I certify that these individuals have done a basic course with me,” he said. “The products sold in the shops are made by me directly.”

Attorney Craig Harvey, who has dealt with over 30 cases of cannabis charges in the past three years, said that Canapax is exploiting a loophole of the law.

“In terms of the Traditional Healers Act, the council was supposed to set up a registry and register traditional healers,” he said.

“Because there’s no registry, who can say who is a traditional healer? Anybody can say I’ve got a membership from xyz.”

The Canapax shop model is a taste of what a dagga dispensary might look like in a South Africa where the substance trade is legal. The Canapax products go through a quality control check before hitting the shelves.

Charl Henning from Fields of Green for All, an organisation which has spearheaded the legal fight for dagga, said Canapax has the right idea.

“But they’re doing it in the wrong way. They want to bring cannabis medicine to the nation, but their business model is wrong. The real sangomas come to us and say ‘we can’t even sell dagga, how can this franchise sell dagga?’”

Requests for comment from the Saps as well as the Traditional and Natural Health Alliance went unanswered.

Weekend Argus