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South Africa wants to become the world's next cannabis tourism hotspot — but the government is standing in the way

Today's Sunday Read is a dispatch from South Africa's budding cannabis tourism industry by writer Ray Mwareya.

Happy Sunday everyone,

Part of my mission with Cultivated is to help you all explore the world through the lens of cannabis legalization.

The issue is endlessly fascinating and complex. If you’re subscribing to this newsletter, I’m sure you agree.

I spend a lot of time reporting on what’s happening here in New York and around North America. But the cannabis legalization story spans the globe.

Instead of trying to tell that story myself, I’m giving writers with expertise in these local dynamics a platform. They can tell the story better than I ever could.

Despite legalization in the country, the South African government still views the cannabis industry through a pseudo-prohibition mindset, writer Ray Mwareya reports for Cultivated.

The parallels between what’s happening with legalization in South Africa and here at home are obvious: An excited industry meets government opposition.

I hope you enjoy Ray’s story.


Today’s Cultivated is sponsored by Durée & Company.

Durée & Company is one of the top public relations and marketing firms in the cannabis industry.

I can say that with confidence: I’ve worked with the team and their deep roster of clients on many stories, and I always value their insight and expertise about all things cannabis.

Their team makes a commitment to stay ahead of the curve on the ever-changing landscape of cannabis regulations. They maintain a strong network of connections with media, influencers, and thought leaders to ensure they can get your story placed.

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photography of buildings beside seashore and mountain during daytime

📚 The Sunday Read

“If we are smart, a million tourists may visit us here in South Africa for cannabis holiday tours each year. However, thanks to our ineptitude, the dream may not materialize,” said Sanele Xosa, a cannabis chocolate maker in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The National Geographic tips South Africa and Thailand to replace Amsterdam as the world’s favorite cannabis-tourism meccas, but domestic obstacles in South Africa, maintained by a clueless government, may kill this dream.

Why is Amsterdam faltering?

For decades, Amsterdam has attracted millions of tourists from across the globe, lured by its famous red-light district and relaxed cannabis consumption laws.

But recently, Amsterdam is pivoting away.

The city wants to dissuade rowdy, brawling tourists from overwhelming the red-light district. They believe reining in cannabis would help suppress noise in response to complaints from local residents.

“Amsterdam’s crackdown is a golden moment for South Africa to snatch the tag of the world’s premier cannabis destination,” said Reja Habane, a former economist in the South Africa tourism ministry. 

“We can be the Las Vegas for weed tourists.”

The new Amsterdam

In August, an editorial in the iconic National Geographic magazine ran with the question: “As Amsterdam bows out, what will be the new capital of cannabis tourism?”

The front-runners to replace Amsterdam as the world’s next top cannabis tourism destination are South Africa and Thailand, the magazine said. 

South Africa, which legalized cannabis in 2018, has an exciting and blooming cannabis tourism industry. 

There are many examples:

  • Niche cannabis tourism operators organize popular ‘bud and breakfast’ packages where tourists can stay in safari cabins and legally consume weed.

  • One tour group, ‘High Holidaze’, describes itself as “professional tour operator with intimate knowledge of Johannesburg and its surroundings showing you the best the city has to offer and bringing you a unique curated cannabis experience.”

  • The Hemp Hotel, the world’s tallest building made of hemp, was unveiled in August in Cape Town, South Africa’s coastal tourism capital.

  • Beyond that, there’s a fast-expanding domestic cannabis retail market offering cannabis oil, teas, chocolate, and tasting tours.

“This is our time. If we partner with airlines to bring cannabis tourists from Europe, the US, or China, South Africa could be a hot cannabis holiday zone,” said Fazenda Baxolo, chief executive of the Sandton Cannabis Retailers Forum, a small business lobby in South Africa.

Lofty ambitions meet a harsh reality in South Africa

South Africa’s lofty ambitions to replace Amsterdam as the world’s foremost cannabis tourism mecca have drawn sharp doubts from industry players at home. 

Domestic obstacles placed on South Africa’s promising cannabis industry will kill the tourism dream, insiders say.

“The government of South Africa is the biggest enemy to our dreams to become the new Amsterdam for weed tourists,” Habane, the economist, said.

Despite legalization, South Africa’s authorities have a hostile relationship with cannabis:

  • Registering to get a license for medicinal cannabis cultivation or export in South Africa can consume 22 months with no approval guaranteed. 

“It’s expensive, the application form is vague, and decision makers are clueless about intimate details of cannabis,” said Seremane Moyo, a cannabis lawyer in South Africa.

  • South African police are notorious for arresting cannabis consumers — something the police shouldn’t do, per the law — and maintain criminal records on past cannabis users. 

“Do you want a dozen cannabis tourists from New York to jet here into South Africa and spend their holiday in custody for sharing weed cakes?” Moyo said.

  • Criminalization of Indigenous groups who have historically farmed cannabis in South Africa and organized informal tours of farms is rife in South Africa. 

“Eco-minded cannabis tourists from abroad are offended to see Indigenous cannabis growers in South Africa jailed or seeing their informal farms raided by police,” Baxolo said.

South Africa’s cannabis industry isn’t waiting for their government. 

Cannabis companies in South Africa are pushing forward regardless of their government’s stance. 

“I’m not surprised that National Geographic pitches us as the next la-la land of cannabis tourism, but we could also badly fumble this golden moment,” Baxolo said. 

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