Welcome to 420 dagga cafe, reloaded

The drug is smoked and sold openly in this joint – but expert says legal aspects of enjoying the weed still blowing in the wind

A dagga cake that was served at a birthday party at Randburg's 420 Café in December 2018
A dagga cake that was served at a birthday party at Randburg's 420 Café in December 2018
Image: Via Facebook

On one of the busiest roads in Randburg‚ Johannesburg‚ people openly “puff and pass” dagga while listening to banging soul-food music.

The 420 Cafe has been operating for a year now‚ although the venue has changed. The restaurant is now at Randview Shopping Centre on the busy Jan Smuts Avenue. It was previously situated in Sandton.

Its name‚ 420‚ is slang for dagga. When entering‚ a bouncer searches bags to ensure no one brings in their own weed. His chair is next to an old jukebox.

Joints are smoked freely in the cafe‚ on condition the dagga is bought there.

Clouds of smoke fill the venue‚ accompanied by loud ’90s‚ RnB and hip-hop tunes.

“Are you first-time visitors? We have house rules. You order a drink and go sit at a table. I will then bring you a menu‚” a waiter tells us.

We order two Coca-Colas and take a seat at a table close to the bar. There are interesting designs on the tables. Ours is decorated with colourful dagga plants.

The waiter approaches us and takes a small menu out of his back pocket. The weed menu.

Prices on this menu range from R100 to R1‚000. The cheapest beer is R50.

My cousin‚ a passionate weed smoker‚ orders the Buddha cheese for R160. Cheese is a strain of cannabis plant grown in the United Kingdom.

There is‚ however‚ a trick to ordering weed.

When you pay cash‚ you pay the price stated on the menu‚ but when paying by card‚ the cafe charges a 10% fee.

While my cousin uses a crusher to “chop the zol”‚ two patrons sit next to us with a bong.

A popcorn machine stands next to the bar.

It answers my question: “What do they eat for munchies?” The venues does‚ however‚ have a menu for munchie – toasties‚ burgers and breakfast.

The munchies menu offers things like John Dough (fried pizza base and dip)‚ fried or grilled halloumi and cheezy chips. The cafe is busy‚ with a few people milling about upstairs on the balcony lounge.

Before we leave‚ we thank the waiter and greet the bouncer. “Hope to see you again‚” the bouncer says as we leave.

The joint is openly operating as the first “official” venue to sell dagga in South Africa‚ although its legal status is unclear.

While private consumption of dagga by adults has been legalised in South Africa‚ the Constitutional Court’s 2018 ruling does not allow for dealing in the drug.

Dagga users may also not sell it to their friends.

Anine Kriegler‚ a criminology researcher at the University of Cape Town‚ noted in 2018 that it would be up to parliament to add detail to the court judgment before a new regulatory system could be adopted.

“Significantly‚ this change came after a legal challenge in support of the right to privacy. It did not result from a popular vote or from a shift in government policy‚ based on public health principles.

“Some of the key issues that will need to be addressed include how far privacy extends‚ exactly what products should be regulated‚ how non-users will be protected and what to do about the existing criminal market‚” she said.

Legal frameworks that could be assessed by SA legislators include the commercialised system developing in parts of the US‚ where businesses sell dagga in much the same way as alcohol. Another is the medical model of Uruguay‚ where dagga can be bought without prescription at pharmacies.

Kriegler believes other countries could offer more appropriate comparisons. Jamaica has set its limits at possession of 56.6g and the cultivation of up to five plants on any premises. Colombia’s limits are 20g or up to 20 plants.

“An important question is whether South Africa will allow dagga social clubs – structures for the non-profit production and distribution of dagga among a closed group of adults‚” Kriegler said.

This is the “Spanish model”.

She added: “Such clubs should enjoy the same protection on the basis of privacy‚ although their regulation introduces additional complications.”

In considering a new legal policy‚ Kriegler said parliamentarians would also have to decide what substances would be included in the law‚ such as hashish (a concentrated resin made from cannabis)‚ cannabis oils or synthetic cannabinoids.