As I drove from Johannesburg through the Karoo to the Garden Route, Facebook messages were piling up on the Dagga Couple page. Driving with both hands on the wheel, unable to answer, I could see with consternation the complaints and outright threats leveled at the DC for associating with someone who was accused of varying degrees of unsavoury behaviour with several young girls almost two decades ago. What had we done to deserve this? How did we get suddenly get into the crossfire of someone else’s issues? Who were these people doing all the spamming, trolling and caps lock expletives?
After a 13 hour drive it was looked like I was going to be in for some objections on the road for the next week. Five presentations in five days isn’t out of the ordinary for us. We’ve done it many times – but this time was different. This time, I’d have Canadian Cannabis activist Marc Emery in the vehicle with me.
I met him for only the third time at his host’s farm outside Plettenberg Bay. This was his first visit to SA, and when he mentioned he was planning his trip 9 months before, we thought it would be a lot of fun to chaperone him and show him this amazing country.
At our previous encounters in Europe, we warmed to both Marc and Jodie. He is outspoken, he does say things for effect and he has spent the last 30 something years pushing the envelope of the Canadian Cannabis laws. If the latest barrage of negative publicity was describing Marc, it seemed like the Twitter feed was really blown out of proportion. What was being said, and who I was interacting with in person had too much dissonance to it. Marc, simply put, is a nice guy. One of the most easy going people I’ve ever met.
Not long after I arrived in Plettenberg Bay, the evening’s restaurant venue called to cancel the event because they didn’t want to be embroiled in the news feed.
And so started my 9 day road trip with the Prince Of Pot.
The evening was a success due to the mobilisation of our host Lara and her network. ‘Meet Marc Emery’ was held in a sprawling farmhouse 10k’s out of town and went on until the small hours. In an engaging and captivating few hours for the people who left the restaurant to drive out of town, Marc wove a delightful personal story interspersed with humour, experience and insight into three decades on the front line of Pot legalisation in Canada. The 30 something prisons he’s been in, the shops he’s opened, the initiatives he’s helped, (including the Trial of The Plant and the Dagga Party), the people he’s met along the way – the weed he’s smoked, the weed he’s sold. It really is an impressive tale.
When we drove out of Plett the next morning for Port Elizabeth, we had 6 presentations planned in 8 days up the N2 to Durban and then the N3 to Johannesburg, from where he would fly out to Europe.
After the few hours it took on the road to get to PE, it was clear to me the negative publicity that had followed me to the coast wasn’t outwardly affecting Marc – it was business as usual to him.
He was already warming to SA after his four day stay in Cape Town and a presentation to 150 enthusiasts at Trenchtown, Observatory, on an Irie Sunday. En route to PE, the Chamber of Commerce threatened the evening’s venue with excommunication if we went ahead with our planned gathering but undeterred, the show went on.
The only way anyone could form an opinion for themselves about this Canadian icon, was to come to the free events and chat to him. We invited his detractors to every event, but if they came – they didn’t make themselves known.
Whether it was growers, healers, students or the Rastafari, Marc captivated everyone who came to listen to his stories. His belief is that the Constitutional Court judgement has given South Africa an edge on the rest of the world as far as human rights and cannabis culture is concerned. His positivity about SA was infectious, and people listened intently as he described how to set up a café, social club, association – whatever you’d like to call it. It was a call to all of us to keep pushing the boundaries of the law, to strive for a critical mass that will become too overwhelming for the authorities to contain. If that happens, he remarked, “then maybe you’ll all be left to your own devices”.
Principled non-compliance; the act of breaking an unjust law in a safe, considerate way to society.
After 4 presentations back to back, I drove him into the depths of the Wild Coast to Mpande for a night at the backpackers on the cliffs. The night sky was interrupted by strings of necklace lights all over the mountain sides. Growers trying to trick their plants into not flowering. The trade in clones seems to have taken off in these remote areas. One transaction we saw was for R100 a clone and the order was for 50 in individual polly cups. That’s a considerable sum of money for a small village on the top of a remote cliff.
People are overgrowing their government, wherever we went. ‘Load Shedding’ as the national power utilities’ gross mismanagement and looting is referred to, is the only thing that can go wrong for these growers. And they’ve got a lot a stake. All the genetics we saw in the Pondoland were ‘foreign’ strains. Mostly European, mostly expensive.
After driving 30k’s on gravel from Lusikisiki, walking three hours with a guide into a valley, through a river and up the other side to a community completely off any 21st century grid – it was still an adulterated crop of European genetics. There’s more money in it. Plain and simple. However, there’s only money in it if there is a harvest, and from what we saw on our visit, there simply hasn’t been enough rain. Irrigation in such an environment is a real challenge. Some plants growing right on the river bank were 2m high and lush, but far too close together, and anything above the waterline was failing in the terraces surrounding the village.
Hemp will save the world, providing it rains.
The trip on foot into the interior was a real eye opener for Marc. Traveled as he is, he’d never been to such a remote community with zero amenities or infrastructure. Our next port of call was far from that. The Holistic Releaf Centre in Durban hosted an excellent evening with us as their VIP’s in the KZN dispensary with some mighty fine local strains going down. The place was full of enthusiasts, and once again – it was after midnight when we finally left the building. The Q&A sessions were becoming three times the length of the presentation. Marc also got to try his first Bunny Chow and at least a dozen local Ganja flavours to sample.
There was always such a spirit of enthusiasm and optimism at all the events we organised, no more so from Krithi and his team. The Durban crew seem to be going from strength to strength.
By the time we drove into Johannesburg 1800k’s later, we’d been in each others company for pretty much all of the time, and got on really well each other. We are the same age and had a surprisingly similar musical upbringing. It was a lot of fun having Spotify at our command.
On that note, a lot has happened to the quality of the data signal in the depths of the Pondoland since my last visit in 2015. First class in most places.
The final Jo’burg talk was attended by the hardcore enthusiasts of legalisation in the city and they hung off every word. Prison stories, sticking it to the man stories, love stories, history stories – sometimes jumping from one to the other in rapid fire. Observations on the ground – form an association, keep it small, use word of mouth, write a constitution and go into business. It’s already happening in every city and town we visited. There simply wasn’t time to do a single night more. He had really crammed a lot into his visit and spent the last twenty four hours of South African time relaxing in Johannesburg and being special guest on The Hotbox Show on his last night here.
He’s made a lot of friends here and touched quite a cross section of our population in a short space of time, but that’s the Dagga plant for you! A Facebook post after his departure described the experience as one of the nicest trips he’s ever taken. It was as organic as a planned road trip could ever be. We did what we set out to do and really changed the hearts and minds of hundreds of South Africans from all walks of life along the way.
He’ll be back, I’m sure. So make yourself a club house, build yourself an underground coffee shop, open a dispensary. If you do, I’m certain he’d love to visit you, the next time he’s road tripping around SA……