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Jozi's Greener Pasteurs

Some never touch it. Some can't do without it. And others stand somewhere inbetween. Dennis spoke to weed smokers from different backgrounds to try and define weed culture and find out their reasons for their opinions on the herb.


Smoking pot is a time old human tradition, especially within South African
culture. As a nation with one of the highest percentages of marijuana users
in the world, and ideal growing conditions, we naturally have a long,
convoluted history with the Holy Herb, Mary Jane, Pot, Zol. Ganja today
occupies an odd role in our society, being both socio-cultural taboo and
common indulgence. Out of intrepid interest, curiosity and because my stash
was dry, I hit the districts of Joburg to find out: What is South African
weed culture?



The Youth
I trekked to a location near a Johannesburg varsity campus where dealers and
smokers alike congregate. Young people spanning all races gathered here to
talk politics, philosophy, play chess, shoot the shit and get high. From
alternative hipsters to seemingly straight-edge accounting students, they
formed a Mandela Generation milieu of assorted races and classes. 

The Dealers

The dealers believe our country's weed laws are such because of our
government's courtship of American ideals, founded on the impression that
Africans should follow Western norms. The general notion among them is that
Hemp is a natural resource with infinite industrial/economic potential and
that America's prohibition is ludicrous. They see mainstream perceptions of
weed as highly negative even though "cops and ministers smoke and even
distribute it." Interestingly enough, none of them wished for legalization.
It would bring tax and regulation, ultimately forcing them out of their
income in what is currently a free, if illegal, market.

Weed Culture
Everyone here agrees there's a culture surrounding cannabis, but none can
say what it entails, what common traits those within it share. I conducted
some research to determine the mainstream view. Sources such as the SAPS,
KZN Health, Narcanon and marijuana-dagga.co.za bleat in unison that weed is
addictive, dangerous and a "gateway drug". KZN Health says few people use
other illegal drugs before first using marijuana. Furthermore, marijuana
reduces motivation and mental function and is addictive. On the serious
side, it increases chances of schizophrenia in those predisposed. 


The campus folk (most being regular smokers of several years) cite the
greatest danger as the possibility of lethargy and demotivation. Other than
that, nobody knew anyone who smashed a car window or stole from parents to
get weed, and haven't heard of or experienced the severe withdrawal symptoms
that come with highly addictive substances. Most believe the official views
are inflated or wrapped in political agenda. The "gateway drug" argument
deflates with the fact that most people have also tried coffee before harder
drugs. Some study high all through their degrees and come out top of their
class. Others avoid weed when needing to focus. Some can't and burn out. As
with alcohol, it depends on the individual.

The Rastas
The next phase of my journey brought me to the Rasta House in Yeoville, a
laid back shanty-town incarnation of Cool Runnings. I parked with white and
black Rastas alike across from an old, VW Beatle, Bob Marley's face on the
hood. The bar, pool tables and spacious outdoor yard are welcome to anyone
with good intentions and an open mind. The Jah-men have nothing to hide,
spending their time drawing, painting, crafting and sharing views. The house
has hosted numerous musical gatherings since '98.


The Rastas, older than the campus youths (30-50 years old), use ganja as a
holy herb, aiding meditation and promoting physical and spiritual healing.
While high, they claim to experience a direct link to the Almighty, the Holy
Spirit influencing them. One, Adam, is outraged at the notion that young
people can get their lives ruined with criminal records over weed and tells
me how, back in the day, weed was more politicized. People assumed you a
terrorist or liberation group member if you toked. Having long running
digestive problems, Adam can't eat without weed. It's his medicine, one with
no side effects after years of failed pharmaceuticals. Weed helps the Rastas
grow and discover themselves, better understanding their own mind and


They say weed is a herb but can be misused as a narcotic. It's all about the
intention - it can be a spiritual link, pleasant relaxant or become abused
and harmful. It's all in the person. They frown on genetically modified herb
grown for higher THC yield. Only God's own greenest for them. Another Rasta,
Roots People, explained that the laws are such to deprive people from
exploring, to keep humans chasing money and facing the other way. Lulling us
into modern slavery based on consensual mass delusion and obsession with
false values. They see the social view as hypocritical and misinformed and
do want it legalized. Like the students, they believe ganja bridges the gaps
between the confusing racial/cultural boundaries of our New South Africa.

The Weed Community
I didn't find a weed culture. Rather, I found many individuals for whom weed
is an integrated part of their culture. If it has any distinguishing
characteristics, they'd have to be integration and openness. Nowhere else
will you find a substance that brings people from all walks of city life
together. As one smoker said, "If you see someone toking, you already feel
they're open minded". Many instant friendships have been sparked over
someone asking a drag of another's joint. Try asking a stranger for a sip of
their beer.

Weed promotes social interaction with a unification of intention, to get
high. Every smoker's got their own reasons. Most told me they simply enjoy
it, they do it to relax. Someone said "because it's a nice day." Some felt
it gives the youth a sense of rebellion and most smokers seem to agree that
it opens your mind to some degree or another, in ways alcohol, cigarettes
and harder drugs can't.

Weed's complex social position and strange hypocrisies shine when you find
yourself in a flea market head shop, staring down a line of gleaming bongs,
or sharing a spliff with your friend's mom. From rural homesteads to urban
rises, from the gangster to the architect designing your office park, people
young and old are blazing. Evil drug, harmless herb or spiritual medicine,
we each have to make our own informed choice as to what it is to us. 


Written by: Dennis Dvornak






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