No spliffing at Cannabis Expo - organisers

2018-11-21 07:24

It may conjure up imagery of red-eyed stoners, casually showing off about who knows their cannabis indica from their sativa, while plumes of smoke billow from their mouths.

But if you are hoping to buy recreational weed at the The Cannabis Expo, which takes place at Time Square, Menlyn in Pretoria, from December 13 to 16, that won't happen. And you won't be able to light up and get high while moving between the exhibitions either.

READ: Celebrations after the private use of dagga is legalised

The expo moves to Cape Town and Durban in April and June next year, respectively.

The cannabis industry is serious business, says the expo's co-founder, Silas Howarth, and items on sale, as well as the exhibits, will be strictly legal. They will range from hemp-made products to medicinal ones and bigger commercial enterprises.

Billion dollar industry

Globally, the legal marijuana industry is expected to reach $146.4bn by 2025, according to Grand Review Research.

"Legal marijuana has started gaining traction worldwide due to very high demand among consumers and increasing legalisation of recreational or medical marijuana in various countries. Additionally, high public and private investment for research and the development of safer forms of ingesting marijuana, such as tinctures, oils, vapes and other edibles, are expected to positively reinforce market growth," the research firm says.

This shows in the proliferation of cannabis expos and marijuana trade shows this year alone - including in several states in the US, Amsterdam, Jamaica, Canada, Spain, Athens, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and now, South Africa.

Speaking to News24, Howarth said things have been made slightly easier for the expo organisers thanks to a Constitutional Court ruling which effectively decriminalises the personal use of marijuana.

In September, the court ruled that the laws criminalising the private use and cultivation of marijuana were inconsistent with the Constitution because they infringed on the right to privacy.

Howarth maintains that the purpose of the expo is not to promote getting high.

Rather, the expo is supposed to promote the cannabis industry as a whole, not just its "recreational side", he said.

No smoking

"You won't be able to buy recreational cannabis. It's a public exhibition, so it's not a private space and the law is very clear about the use of cannabis in public. Smoking at the expo won't be allowed," Howarth said.

He said since the court ruling, people realised that they were allowed to grow their own cannabis, but they might not know how to go about it.

The expo will feature showcases of different growing techniques, as well as international and local experts who will explain the legalities of using the plant in its various forms.

"It has been a bit tricky figuring out exactly what can and can't be done [at the expo], but at the same time that's the nature of where we are as a country. The new ruling hasn't exactly been tested. We are making sure that we are representing the legal aspects of the industry. Anyone trading there is exhibiting goods that can legally be traded.

"The change in the law is a step in the right direction, but there's still that uncertainty and we're trying to educate people as well," Howarth said.

Around the world, moves to legalise marijuana have been welcomed by freedom of privacy advocates, but also by advocates of medical marijuana.

But the South African Society of Psychiatrists issued a warning about the legalisation of the drug in February last year.

Not enough research

Dr Shaquir Salduker of the Psychiatry Management Group warned that not enough research had been done to justify loosening laws on the consumption of marijuana.

"Although there are some studies indicating that cannabis is as effective as existing painkillers and does have some effect on nausea, appetite stimulation, anxiety and seizures, there is to date no landmark studies into its role in pain management that would make it a revolutionary agent in pain control. The legislation change should be scientific not socially driven. We simply don't have enough research to understand the complexity of the substance to say it's safe to use in the long term," Salduker said.

Outside of its medical uses, the expo will include exhibits from people using hemp to make bricks as part of a community upliftment project, as well as an exhibitor who helps people buy cannabis stocks abroad. Even hemp seed oil hand creams and energy drinks made with cannabis extract will be on display.

Howarth said that he was "hugely surprised and encouraged" at how big the cannabis industry was. He said there was a waiting list for exhibitors for the Johannesburg expo, and they were expecting 10 000 people to attend.

He hopes that destigmatising the industry will help to change mindsets in society and in the government. But attitudes are changing, and Howarth says there has been no resistance to the expo - something that has also surprised the organisers.

"But we welcome that debate if it comes. It's healthy and important. We've kept it as open as we can. We've invited rehab clinics to attend the show," Howarth said.

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