Growing Cannabis in South Africa | Medical Marijuana Licences & More

A person growing cannabis in South Africa

In 2018 the Constitutional Court decriminalised growing cannabis in South Africa. The ruling gave South Africans the constitutional right to grow and smoke weed on private property. This was a huge step towards legalisation and opened the door for many commercial opportunities in the near future.

However, did you know that medical cannabis in South Africa has been legal since 2017? As one of three African nations to legalise medical weed, South Africa seemed to be paving the way towards commercialising medicinal weed.

Yet, as the years have passed, the medical marijuana market has proved to be anything but straightforward. The process of applying for a medical licence and registering cannabis as a medicine in South Africa is long, complex, and expensive. Those that apply for a medical cannabis licence must adhere to many regulations and invest millions of Rands before they can legally grow and distribute weed for medicinal markets.

This week, we’re taking a look at the legality of growing cannabis in South Africa, the medical marijuana landscape, and the recreational market’s potential future.

Is it Legal to Grow Dagga in South Africa?

Growing cannabis in South Africa is no longer a criminal offence if it’s for personal consumption on private property. This has encouraged thousands of cannabis enthusiasts to start growing their own weed. While this is a significant step in the right direction, the judgement has some pitfalls.

The Con Court’s 2018 ruling was rather ambiguous regarding how much weed you can grow and possess on your private property. In September 2020, the government released a proposed draft bill to add clarity. According to the proposed bill, you’re allowed to have the following:

  • An unlimited amount of seeds and seedlings;
  • 4 flowering plants for those living alone, and 8 for households of two individuals;
  • 600 grams of dried weed for individuals living alone, and 1.2 kilograms for households (or dwelling equivalent) with two or more adults;
  • Possession of 100 grams of dried cannabis in public, if it’s concealed from the public’s view.


Person weighing cannabis on a scale

The Rise of Cannabis Grow Clubs

While weed is decriminalised, not everyone has the time, space, or desire to grow at home. However, every adult South African has the constitutional right to consume cannabis on their property. So how do these people access weed without relying on the black market?

Well, that’s the gap in the market that cannabis clubs aimed to fill. Grow clubs opened to cultivate weed for paying members after the 2018 judgement. The clubs based their business model on cannabis social clubs in Europe. These clubs are mostly located in Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands. They have a physical location where paying members come to collect and smoke their weed.

The South African grow clubs took a very similar approach, but many chose to conduct their business online instead of having a physical location. The members joined the clubs by paying a monthly subscription fee that covered the costs of growing and distributing the weed to the members.

The clubs rented growing spaces to members and grew weed on behalf of each member. Once ready, the marijuana was couriered to the respective members, allowing them to smoke on their private property. These businesses meant that cannabis users didn’t have to rely on the illicit market to access weed. However, after a few years of uninterrupted progress, everything came tumbling down.

The Fall of Cannabis Grow Clubs

As more clubs entered the market, the South African Police Service (SAPS) took notice. They deemed the clubs as taking advantage of a legal loophole to sell weed, seeing them in the same light as drug dealers. By the end of 2020, SAPS were raiding cannabis clubs. Anyone associated with a raided club’s operations faced criminal charges. This ultimately killed the budding industry, which was just beginning to gain popularity in South Africa.

Most cannabis clubs have closed since then, and are waiting until the laws surrounding cannabis consumption and cultivation are amended. Ultimately, the clubs want to operate in a transparent manner without interference from the police.  A court case regarding the legality of the grow club model is expected to be heard in the coming months, so it’s possible we’ll see these businesses up and running again in the near future.

What About the Medical Grower’s Licence?

Plants growing in a medical cannabis facility

Medical weed in South Africa may face less scrutiny from the police, but it’s no walk in the park. The process of getting a licence is immensely expensive and can take years to accomplish. The only way to apply for a licence is through the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, commonly referred to as SAHPRA. It’s the only state-affiliated entity that can issue medical weed licences in South Africa.

Applicants have to complete massive amounts of paperwork. They also have to ensure their facilities meet strict requirements concerning the cultivation, processing, storage, and distribution of medicinal weed. Once an applicant’s site is built to specification, and all the necessary paperwork is in place, it must be inspected by SAHPRA.

A licence can only be issued to an applicant that passes this inspection. This is done to ensure the applicant’s facility is up to standard, and has the capacity to grow, process, and distribute medical-grade products.

South Africa’s Medical Marijuana Market

By 2023, the value of South Africa’s marijuana market is estimated to be worth R27 billion and the medical market has an estimated value of R10 billion. The evaluation is based on the market growth rates in nations where weed is legal. The medical market’s estimation is smaller due to strict production and distribution regulations, unlike the potential recreational market.

After weed was decriminalised, THC was reclassified as Schedule 6, and CBD as Schedule 4. Substances within these schedules can only be accessed with a prescription from a medical practitioner. However, the scheduling doesn’t apply if cannabis products meet specific preparations. This allows them to be sold to the public without a prescription from medical professionals.

SAHPRA states that cannabis products must contain no more than 600mg of CBD, and less than 0.001% THC to be legally sold in retail stores in South Africa. The CBD products that you see in pharmacies and other retailers all meet these requirements. This is a good thing, but the low quantities of CBD and THC mean the products are not that effective at helping treat more serious diseases, such as cancer.

The Lack of a Domestic Medical Cannabis Sector

The rescheduling of cannabis is a small step in the right direction. However, there still isn’t a domestic market for medicinal marijuana in South Africa. This is because there are no CBD or THC-containing medicines registered with SAHPRA. South Africa’s domestic medical marijuana market remains entirely undeveloped as a result. South Africans can obtain licences to grow medical marijuana, but cannot sell or distribute it in South Africa – which is absurd.

The lack of access means South Africans miss out on all the amazing therapeutic benefits of the dagga plant. There are countless medical weed strains that treat many diseases and ailments. However, the thousands of patients that stand to gain from this medicine can’t legally access it. Strains like Dinamed CBD Plus, which helps treat epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases, and multiple sclerosis are unavailable to medical patients, which is a great pity. 

Due to the limited domestic growth prospects, South African medical cannabis suppliers have to export to foreign nations with developed medical marijuana markets, such as Israel, Germany, Australia, and other EU nations.

Person holding medical cannabis in their hand

Final Thoughts on Legality of Growing Cannabis in South Africa

South Africa seems to be moving in the right direction, although progress is slow. Within the next six months, there should be a verdict on the legality of the grow club model. This will likely be the cornerstone case that leads to the complete legalisation of recreational weed in the coming years.

In terms of medical marijuana, South Africa has immense potential. We have the perfect environment to grow cannabis. However, we lack a domestic medical market that is needed to help the industry get off its feet, and give South Africans the ability to access cannabis as a medicine.

Like most marijuana markets worldwide, market growth is largely determined by the level of control the government adds to legislation. Another key aspect is how the market is structured. If done correctly, South Africa can become a competitive global supplier of recreational and medicinal cannabis. However, the clock is ticking, and time waits for no man. The longer we stay in limbo, the harder it will be for South African cannabis companies to compete with other nations that already have developed marijuana markets.

Comment (1)

  • Scottie Federick

    Howdy! This article couldn’t be written much better! Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept talking about this. I most certainly will send this information to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a very good read. Thanks for sharing!

    12 April 2022 at 3:06 pm

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