Enjoy the high end of budding ca…

“If you’re a traveler who appreciates a heart that’s dedicated to growing a quality green, loves to taste new varieties from around the world, and enjoys savoring a quiet time with new friends at the end of a beautiful day…this is the turn for you,” says an online ad for a cannabis-friendly vacation package to Knysna.

Set against the glorious backdrop of the Garden Route and Little Karoo, Hello Adventure offers a weed-friendly four-day 21+ package – whether you join or not – introducing a maximum of 10 visitors to growing cannabis of the Garden Route. You meet a local social club that supports small domestic growers, meet the growers themselves, and experience ‘spiritual green’ during a visit to a local Rastafarian community.

“Join us for a tailor-made 420 cannabis experience and tour for the curious,” reads High Holidaze’s online offering. The popular tour operator now also offers a five-day tour in and around Johannesburg’s cannabis community, with accommodation at Jazz Farm in the Magaliesberg. It’s a combination of grass, relaxation, urban culture, cuisine and connection.

“During our tours, tourists learn about the history, arts and culture of our region,” says Lorraine Keenan, who runs High Holidaze. “They experience the friendliness that South Africans are famous for. We use professional tour operators with intimate knowledge of Jozi and its surroundings to show tourists the best of the city as well as provide a curated cannabis experience.

High Holidaze runs tours to Hartbeespoort Dam, Cradle of Humankind, Maboneng and downtown Johannesburg, and offers Soweto packages where you can see the sights, enjoy a bike or tuk tour tuk, visit a local cannabis social club and spend the night. Tourists can stay at a grow farm and learn about the medicinal and healing aspects of cannabis, as well as meet activists and learn more about this healing plant.

“Of course, there are delicious traditional homemade dishes,” Keenan says, “and people can also sample special infused treats and snacks, and learn about the alchemy of edibles.”

Take a tour of Maboneng in downtown Johannesburg while on vacation. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)
High Holidaze offers tours of Soweto where visitors can meet local cannabis
community. (Photo: Haute Holidaze)

Massive opportunity

“Cannabis tourism is not on the mainstream radar at all,” says David Frost, CEO of the Southern African Tourism Association Service. “But it’s a fantastic opportunity to appeal to the millennial market, which is potentially huge. We really need to consider building new segments to strengthen our destination and regain the confidence of long-haul travelers, especially since Covid.

“The millennial market is robust and includes people of independent means and spirit. If we get the millennials now, we [will have] they come back again and again. And, more importantly, cannabis-related tourism also means that the proverbial tourism dollar goes to rural areas where livelihoods are marginal,” says Frost.

South Africa is as famous for its weed as Jamaica or California. It has what is called in French wine terms, land. Character. As in, the earthy flavors and aromas that are imparted to wine by the soil in which the grapes are grown, the specific habitat, farming methods and growing conditions.

Frost says cannabis-friendly rural adventure packages also have the potential to deliver “authentic, immersive experiences for millennials,” connected vacations that will likely mean the traveler’s return.

In more than 17 US states, cannabis is legal and tourism is booming. It’s a huge industry, estimated to be worth $90 billion by 2026, according to Forbes. His research shows that nearly 20% of all American adults are considered cannabis-motivated travelers.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in February this year that the entire cannabis industry was potentially worth R28 billion a year and would significantly reduce South Africa’s unemployment problem by creating 130,000 jobs. Cannabis has essentially been decriminalized for personal use, but there is legal ambiguity around the trade.

“People are quiet until there is legal clarity,” Keenan says. “I think the time is right, and it won’t be long before the cannabis tourism industry takes off. I see the market as European, mostly curious travelers in the 18-35 age bracket .

“Obviously the laws have to change. We need to eliminate the stigma around cannabis use and get the whole problem out of the gutter. It is a beautiful medicinal plant, deeply rooted in indigenous culture, and it should be introduced into the tourism industry as a wonderful way to connect with our culture and our country.

The cannabis tourism folks seem to be forging ahead with their endeavors with enthusiasm, from a string of high-profile clubs in Johannesburg and Cape Town to ganja-infused horse-riding adventures in Pondoland on the rugged Eastern Cape coast.

There’s high-rise hiking and stoned yoga around Tzaneen in Limpopo and edibles are on offer at the Mountain Brewery. Youngsters hang out at Purple Haze Eco Lodge in Hogsback and get high at Mary Jane’s House in KwaZulu-Natal.

Smokers can choose from a range of home-grown cannabis at a recent Cannabis Club event in Limpopo. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)
Cycling around Soweto is part of the High Holidaze Cannabis Tour. (Photo: provided)

Legal Rumblings

“Cannabis tourism has great potential to introduce the world to our beautiful, diverse and amazing community of people and showcase our incredible plants,” says Myrtle Clark of Green Fields for All. “Our tourism services are very capable of supplying and attracting a new young market in South Africa.

“But we have been campaigning for more than 11 years and we are at the end of our rope. There must be a ‘dagga commission’ in which civil society is consulted on the regulation of the entire cannabis industry,” she says.

“The government seems terrified of this factory. They still think we smoke the leaves. Everything is based on the harm he can do. They have to catch up with the rest of the world. And stop stopping us.

“Our premise is simply that the world is a better place when weed is legal,” Clark says.

The biggest obstacle to the cannabis tourism industry is that no one is technically allowed to buy or sell weed.

What’s the point of going all the way to Pondoland for a ganja riding adventure when you don’t have any? What if this trendy Kommetjie villa doesn’t leave a joint on your pillow after all?

Rastas sell smoking paraphernalia and reggae trinkets at a recent cannabis club event in
Limpopo. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Enter the cannabis social clubs (CSC), which stems from the 2018 Constitutional Court decision that decriminalized the personal consumption and possession of cannabis in a private space. Even though the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill was passed by the Cabinet in August 2020, it still needs to be considered by Parliament.

The law says you can’t sell cannabis, but it also says you can be a member of a club, and with that membership you can enjoy the benefits of the club. Thus, you “make a contribution” to the other members; it’s never a sale.

CSCs are non-profit and members pay a monthly fee which gives them the right to share and trade – specific terminology that allows clubs to operate without breaking the law.

Although the consumption, trade and control of cannabis has been plunged into a state of legislative ambiguity, CSCs have created a social space for cannabis users to connect in a social setting. And to invite their friends and tourists, local and international.

CSCs could be a great way to kick-start sustainable tourism in rural areas, connecting local communities to tourism services such as guiding, camping and hiking.

Although some posh CSCs in Cape Town ban alcohol and cigarettes, others, like those in Limpopo, hold club gatherings in the mountains where members listen to music and choose their weed from a “bud bar”. Other Clubs is an exclusive online service that grows your cannabis plants for you.

As Big Pharma seizes the rights to the medicinal uses of cannabis, the cannabis community, often led by women, is steering the market into wellness, organic, and friendly territory. The women are shaping safe spaces for the curious and the cannabis-savvy to enjoy the plant.

The potential for small business development is huge: “Cannabis social clubs need serious consideration as a potentially innovative business model,” says Maryke Steynvaart, a masters student at the University of Pretoria, who is interested in researching emerging cannabis distribution networks in South Africa.

“Furthermore, it presents financial and small business opportunities for citizens and taxation avenues for the state.

“There is great potential to have a positive socio-economic impact by stimulating the economy with small businesses. This includes the thousands of existing cannabis growers who can then contribute to the legal economy. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly newspaper Daily Maverick 168, which is available nationwide for R25.