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Canapax, a cannabis franchise that has established itself throughout South Africa, has opened one of its stores in Stellenbosch. The store specialises in the trade of various medicinal indigenous plants, such as Buchu and other root extracts.

However, it is the selling of cannabis, especially the legality of the endeavour, that has question marks hovering over Canapax. According to Cornelius Combrink, the owner, the store aims to “promote traditional healing through easy and safe access to different medicinal plants” and that is why they regard the decriminalisation of marijuana and the traditional use of medicinal plants with it as a “breakthrough”.

Although the private use of cannabis was decriminalised by a Constitutional Court judgement given by Deputy Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo, the selling of cannabis remains illegal. Canapax, however, states that it is “within the legal framework”.

Canapax claims that it operates under the Traditional Health Practitioners Act, allowing the store to provide cannabis via the traditional knowledge of !Kora Brian Damonse, the traditional healer at Canapax Stellenbosch. Damonse has been involved in traditional healing throughout his life and is the Chairperson of Cape Bush Doctors, an NPO specialising in the formalisation and protection of indigenous healers and their medicinal knowledge. According to Damonse, the Traditional Health Practitioners Act affords traditional healers the same rights, responsibilities and liabilities as those given to practitioners of the Western medicinal tradition. Therefore, the traditional medical practitioner can supply traditional medicine to a patient.

Damonse says as long as he is a registered practitioner in terms of the Traditional Health Practitioners Act, he may supply medicinal marijuana or any indigenous plant medicine within the legal framework, to an individual who approaches him for help and advice.

“We as traditional healers are covered by the Act and Canapax is covered by the Act, that is how we function,” Damonse says. The apparent legitimacy of the store, therefore, stems from the store’s traditional healer and Damonse says that customers should not worry about visiting or purchasing cannabis from the store as all aspects of the venture are covered by the scope of the Traditional Health Practitioners Act. According to Prof Gerhard Kemp, from Stellenbosch University’s Law Faculty, there seems to be an apparent void in the current legislative designs that regulate cannabis usage in South Africa.

“The law seems to be in legal limbo and is not clear when it comes to the different contexts of use,” Kemp says. “One way to look at the judgement is where a person is clearly growing cannabis on a large scale and selling it to the public for recreational use. [If this is the case] it is seen to be in violation of the law, unless, you can find another regulatory framework for instance in a medicinal context or a traditional use context.

“That is where the law is not so clear because you will then have to justify the use of cannabis either on medical grounds or traditional health grounds and not recreational grounds. That is not the context in which those legislative frameworks were drafted.”

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