Members of the Rastafarian community in Butterworth have started selling dagga on the N2 between Mthatha and East London. The business is carried out quite openly and municipal law enforcement officials have not stopped it.
In his maiden state of the province address in June, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane said government was investigating cannabis as an economic stimulant.
“We cannot be missing in action when our province is endowed with a crop that can be ploughed and processed to make medicinal products and create jobs for our people,” he said.
He spoke of creating “cannabis value chains in a manner that ensures inclusion”.
In March 2017 judge Dennis Davis handed down a judgment in the Western Cape High Court that declared sections of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 1992 unconstitutional. The judgment allowed people to use cannabis privately, but selling it remains against the law.
Increasing tolerance of cannabis use across the world, particularly legalisation of sales for medical use in several countries, is causing a boom in investment in the industry. But this may be at the expense of small players such as the remote Eastern Cape villages that have been depending on illicit dagga cash crops for decades.
The people selling dagga along the N2 told GroundUp that they understood that Mabuyane has promised to legalise the selling of dagga and allow people to plant it to create jobs.
The spokesperson for the premier, Mvuyisiwekhaya Sicwetsha, was tactful when asked to comment. He said Mabuyane understood the interest of the public in the matter but he called on everyone to work within the law.
GroundUp met five members of the Rastafarian community on the N2. They kept dagga in lunch boxes, some of it in small packets, and possibly also the backpacks they were carrying. They traded in the open, including to pupils.
One of the sellers said they started selling dagga in the open since June, after Mabuyane’s address. He said people who make traditional medicines also used dagga. “This is our bread and we are tired of hiding it,” he said.
He makes about R1,000 a week, which supports his wife and three children.
“I plant the dagga at home and come to sell it here. We are making money just like the other vendors who are selling sweets and fruit,” he said. “Not everyone is against us. There are vendors who support us and when the law enforcement officials come to arrest us, they stop them. We are now selling freely.”
But street vendor Nosiseko Falipi, who sells fruit and sweets and sews traditional dresses, said: “They are making a lot of money … This matter was reported to the municipal police since they patrol the town now … We were hoping that they would come up with a solution but they have failed.”
Police spokesperson Capt Jackson Manatha said: “We are not aware of this and anyone with information should contact the police.”
Questions sent to Mnquma Local Municipality and its metro police last week were not answered.