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In an ordinary building in an ordinary Joburg suburb is an extraordinary business. It’s a coffee shop, but not of the caffeine variety. This is the city’s first cannabis coffee shop trading in the open … almost.
Owner Frank L doesn’t give his full name for print. The signs are neon but he’s kept the name cryptic, revealing enough for customers and vague enough for his detractors not to notice, he believes.
Legal cannabis use in South Africa is still contested. The Western Cape High Court ruled in March that private use and private cultivation of cannabis in someone’s own home is constitutionally legal. Parliament, however, is still to amend the law.
Also, an ongoing court challenge involving the “Dagga Couple”, Jules Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, fighting for their unrestricted use of dagga, means legal uncertainty persists.
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For Frank L, who opened his business last month, it means he could be shut down. But he’s tired of hiding and tired of waiting for social evolution and the law to catch up with reality.
Reality, as Frank L sees it, is reflected in the fact that in the first month he’s had more than 1,300 people through his doors – it’s literally a growth industry, he figures.
People just want a place where they smoke that’s a social, chilled, safe space. – Frank L, cannabis coffee shop owner
“People just want a place where they smoke that’s a social, chilled, safe space,” says Frank relaxing in the shaded garden.
On the menu are offerings called bliss, pineapple, honeycomb and boss cheese. They’re names for weed that have price tags of between R180 and R800 a gram – a favourite is boss cheese. Dagga dabs, compressed dagga oil smoked with a rig that creates a vaping effect, is also popular and so are his dagga muffins.
The confectionery is such a hit, Frank L jokes that he should open an on-site bakery.
Inside his establishment the floors are painted like a kiddies’ road-safety traffic park, only the signboards say “Red Light District” and the table tops are decorated in a cannabis theme. There’s a pool table, popcorn machines and a food counter. There’s also a counter selling smoking paraphernalia.
On the darkened loft floor there are sofas and bean bags; UV lights turn coils of rising dagga smoke into the tangle of live serpents on Medusa’s head.
“There are never fights or anything like that,” says one patron, his lids drooping as he sags back into the sofa, and his high. Another customer says she smokes to stave off anxiety.
“I get people from all walks of life in here,” says Frank L. His patrons include a judge, politically connected elite and stockbrokers. There are also students, businessmen on extended lunch breaks and those looking for cannabis to ease medical maladies.
“South Africans have needed a cannabis coffee shop culture for years. This café is just the beginning,” says Frank L, who’s already plotting a second café. The green revolution is coming, it can’t grow in the dark forever.
• This article was originally published in The Times.