South Africa’s Soweto Holds First Cannabis Festival

The suburb of Johannesburg made famous by its resistance to apartheid, holds its first cannabis festival to educate and destigmatize the plant.

In a first of its kind event, a three day cannabis festival has just concluded in the mostly Black suburb of Johannesburg called Soweto. Organizers used the event as an educational opportunity to disseminate positive information about the plant as South Africa moves forward on reform.

The timing if not historical significance is interesting—especially given Soweto’s role in helping to bring global attention to the injustices of apartheid during the 1970s and 1980s.

This is true on a national as well as international level.

South Africa has clearly driven the reform discussion across the continent in the modern legalization conversation as well as opened new sources of product for Europe.

Domestically, medical cannabis reform along with economic development plans connected to all aspects of the plant are proceeding even as the governing party, the African National Congress or ANC weathers much broader criticisms about corruption and its overall efficacy. A successful transition to a regulated cannabis market, particularly one that steps into domestic healthcare provision gaps and provides a valuable export crop for the country will be a bright feather in a much-dented cap.

Currently legalization legislation is moving forward on a national level— although not without its critics who claim that the bill is not inclusive enough of domestic farmers. Beyond this, it is also unclear how comprehensive protections will be for those who cultivate small amounts of the plant for personal use.

Political issues aside, it is also clear that the first signs of a cannabis infrastructure are beginning to appear around the country even before any legislation passes. For example, three new cannabis pharmacies have also opened this month in and around Johannesburg—with an interesting telehealth twist. Both an online doctor and chef share their knowledge about using cannabis in food.

The country’s first clinical cannabis trial also kicked off formally about three weeks ago.

And, in a touching and powerful testament to the ferocity of the war so far, not to mention the sacrifices that have occurred along the way, on Saturday, the bodies of 22 cannabis farmers executed in 1957 by the apartheid government will be exhumed and moved to their final resting grounds.

If there was ever a good time to kick off a regular cannabis fest in a major South African city, it would be this summer.

Education about the plant is at a premium everywhere.

The European-South African Cannabis Connection

Such developments in South Africa if not countries throughout the continent are also mirroring reform in Europe right now even if there are also many differences.

One of the most interesting similarities is the contentious issue of home grow. As South Africa wrestles with the topic, so are several European countries. Beyond this, although absolutely related, are questions about the future of the South African cannabis clubs, modeled on the Spanish ones. So far, these establishments have continued to be allowed to operate in the gray areas of the law. As the drug becomes normalized into medical channels here (namely pharmacies) it will be interesting to see how the clubs survive if not morph.

Obviously, health insurance coverage along with medical infrastructure in African countries is different than what exists in Europe. This means that people have to, where they can, either grow or buy their own cannabis. When it comes to purchasing the plant, what rules will be enforced about where and under what circumstances they do so are still in flux. This situation also means that South Africa will have to recognize a fairly liberal interpretation of home grow if it is to succeed in its several goals for and around the development of this industry niche for the benefit of the country’s population.

Yet no matter their differences, half a world away, multiple countries in Europe too, although for slightly different reasons, must also embrace a similar approach. Even more interesting is that this is a conversation that is showing up in country after country right now across the E.U.

And of course, many South African firms are looking to export to the European market, starting with Germany but certainly not limited to the same.

What is clear is that whole continents, beyond individual countries, are starting to consider similar fundamental basics about reform of both the medical and recreational kind. That in and of itself, is worthy of a festival, no matter where it is celebrated.

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