South African Courts Are About to Determine If Onsite Cultivation Clubs Are Legal
The Haze Club advertises itself as “South Africa’s first 100% Legal Premium Growing Service,” but the police officers who shut it down beg to differ.
Published on February 4, 2021

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A South African cannabis club that was shut down after an October police raid is challenging the government’s interpretation of its marijuana laws. The court’s decision in the case could determine the future for the country’s community grows, which will inevitably impact growers' rights.

At issue is the meaning of the 2018 ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court that rejected prohibition of adult consumption, cultivation, and possession. That decision held that any ban on such activities was a violation of citizens’ right to privacy. 

“An example of cultivation of cannabis in a private place is the garden of one’s residence,” court papers cite. “It may or may not be that it can also be grown inside an enclosure or a room under certain circumstances. It may also be that one may cultivate it in a place other than in one’s garden if that place can be said to be a private place.”

Neil Liddell, director of The Haze Club (a.k.a. THC), filed an affidavit on Tuesday with the Western Cape high court as part of an application for a declaratory order. It states that his business, located in the Capetown suburb of Ottery, is “lawful and consistent with the 2018 judgment.”

The court documents submitted by THC hold that each cannabis plant grown at the club begins and ends its life as the property of specific members, and not of the business itself. Members are required to supply their own seeds, which are then grown by on-site horticulturists in assigned lots of no more than two plants per member. 

Instead of buying their cannabis, members pay a monthly rent on their lot (from 485 to 1,320 rands, or roughly $32 to $88 USD). They trace the growth of their plants via an app and once their plants are cured and packaged, members are notified that their reefer is ready to go home.

“The grow club model is founded on the idea that many people, particularly in urban metropolises, live in small houses or flats; many live communally, while a large portion of South Africa’s population live in informal structures,” states the THC team in court documents. “These living conditions mean that certain categories of persons are unable to enjoy being able to cultivate cannabis for personal consumption as they are now so entitled to do.”

The filed documents suggest that outlawing cannabis clubs would amount to racial discrimination, given that South Africa’s BIPOCs tend to live in smaller homes that can be ill-suited to crop cultivation. 

In October, THC was raided by the police, reportedly based on tips that its administrators were illegally selling cannabis. THC’s growing equipment was confiscated, in addition to its members’ cannabis crops and Liddell’s phone and laptop. 

“Almost nothing was left behind at the premises,” state court papers. Liddell and employee Ben van Houten were arrested in the raid. 

At least one other, 3,000-member Capetown cannabis club has suspended operations due to the threat of police action. 

South Africa made cannabis illegal in 1922, though initially, its production was largely untouched by policing in tribal reserve areas. But as the decades passed, the country’s policing focused more acutely on marijuana growers in those same indigenous territories. By 1953, the United Nations documented that of 46 countries surveyed over six years, South Africa accounted for 50 to 76 percent of cannabis seizures. 

Against such a racially-biased historical backdrop, it seems all the more urgent that South African consumer and grower rights be protected. 

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Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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