Is SA’s Largest Medical Cannabis Grow For Research Or Profit?

Has South Africa's legal hemp trial secretly grown into a medical marijuana monopoly, or is it still just research?

Earlier this week The High Co. broke a story covering the possible legal cannabis grow in South Africa’s Dube AgriZone. The article suggests that House of Hemp (HoH), owned and run by Dr. Thandeka R. Kunene, is cultivating cannabis in the greenhouses of Dube AgriZone. The pictures supplied (taken directly from HoH’s Instagram account) seemed to imply that her cultivation is not within the boundaries of her legal responsibilities, namely hemp cultivation.

As early as 1999 (The same year Aspen abandoned their pursuit of a legal challenge to medical cannabis laws) Dr. Kunene has been pursuing an industrial cannabis market in South Africa. Completing her PhD and garnering the international private funding, Dr Kunene began a research mandate.

The task was simple: could hemp be an industrial crop in South Africa?

Kunene spent the next decade-and-a-half refining her research and implementing the necessary procedures to realise an experiment or three. Following the standards of most abnormal research, the Dr went on to draw international private funding for the projects and partnered with local communities to meet her empowerment mandate.

Hemporium’s Western Cape Hemp Trial, under coordination of Dr. Thandeka Kunene – 2013

Licensed under the department of agriculture and/or department of health, Kunene was granted the rights to legally cultivate cannabis sativa, explicitly under the laws amended to accommodate hemp, or a variety of cannabis bearing 1/10 000th of THC to CBD. What this essentially meant is that the plants would have to be grown explicitly for their use as a source of fibre.

At least this is how she started.

As her project gained momentum, she began to expand into the research of CBD extraction and isolation. This became an important turning point in her project as she no longer was growing cannabis sativa for its fibre, and rather for its CBD, which until very recently was illegal. It is vital to remember that CBD, for all its populist innocence, is still considered a cannabinoid. Or more importantly in the eyes of the law: a derivative of cannabis sativa.

So here is where things become interesting, because one might find that the story of the year is in fact just that: a story.

Kunene has dubbed herself the “queen of cannabis in the south” and can be seen posing in state-of-the-art Dutch greenhouses packed full of plants that do not look similar to the majority of hemp cultivars known to most.

Instagram @cannabis_queen_of_the_south

Big toppling buds can be seen towering in the background and the plants seem to show predominantly female characteristics, usually not the case in most hemp genetics. Typically cannabis when grown for its fibre, is grown tall and apical, with the preference in production given to plants that mimic these traits.

Coincidentally, the male cannabis plant, which contains minimal amounts of THC, is usually the choice in hemp production, due to its ideal profile, after all, it is the stem that is used and not the flower. And it is under this exact genetic expression that the hemp industry at large operates.

In Europe the law concerns itself predominantly with THC/a and so cultivators have been growing male cannabis plants to sustain the hemp industry. After all, it makes sense, there is no reason cripple the hemp market if one can grow low THC bearing plants and use the resources explicitly for fibres. And that is how European countries sustain legal “souvenir” seeds and freely available hemp products.

But things are a little different here. A fact we all like to use only at our convenience. And so
many people are left scratching their heads at the site of some old lady in Durban next to the dank. But the law is clear, and the Dr eloquently points this out in her defence.

While hemp is legal, the purpose of said hemp is the grey area the Dr has taken advantage of. Until November 2016, all cannabinoids have been illegal for any form of use or production. Unless explicitly granted through the appropriate authorities. This means until November 2016, any and all cannabis grown for any use other than the legal hemp market (or appropriate authority) has been illegal.

Hemp however, has not been. Why? Because while Hemp and cannabis may be the same plant, they are semantically exclusive by their chemical taxonomy. One is low in THC and grown under the auspices of industrial use, and the other lands you in jail. And essentially the only person licensed to cultivate hemp is the Dr, so any and all cannabis grown outside of these parameters, has and is illegal.

“There will also be direct income generation through the sale of the produce”

So what the hell is going on in the AgriZone? Kunene certainly seems to be growing a little more than just hemp for fibre and CBD, at least to those speculating. We certainly wouldn’t dare lay such an accusation without further substantiating claims and evidence, but here is what we suspect has occurred and posit as a possible explanation:

Dr Kunene secured herself an industrial hemp license, or a license to grow hemp on the auspices of investigating whether it could be a financially viable crop. Moving on from fibre, Kunene then went about ensuring her permit extended to researching the industrial aspects of CBD extraction. It is likely she left us to our own devices and to assume said extraction would be from the current fibrous hemp crops. However you might find this was not a necessity and in fact she was able to grow cannabis plants for their flowers and associated cannabinoids. Using the semantics of the hemp/cannabis/cannabinoids Dr Kunene is likely to have secured her licensing to research multiple aspects of each process, including cultivation of high THC crops, CBD & THC extraction and market viability.

In HoH’s most recent proposals (here and here) it is quoted that “There will also be direct income generation through the sale of the produce remaining after sampling of the trials”.

In addition to the expected permits for cultivation, research and possession, the following two permits were also applied for: Product sales and distribution (including monitoring of post marketing surveillance to determine how the product performs in the market and how it is received); and Extraction of CBD and THC and other cannabis compounds.

The glaringly obvious concern to most is the sheer injustice of such an abuse of opportunity. Beyond the actual monopoly Kunene holds, to then use a model of community empowerment to further personal profits is so distasteful, one might be tempted to say normal in our country.

But upon serious investigation, one might find all the placards and protesters in the world will simply embarrass. It is highly likely that the production is entirely legal and despite community advertising of HoHs’ supposed product for sale, one has yet to hear of an official arrest/charge for an illegal activity. Dr Kunene may have kept the processes and knowledge to herself, but it certainly seems like she has accommodated the law. Is HoH’s grow for legal research or an evil monolopy? The answer may be both.

It would require some dirtier mud to foul this story and Dr Kunene simply appears to be one of the few who’ve actually instituted recognised change. Would our countrymen rather see affordable CBD available in the next year, or live under prohibitive laws requiring clandestine labs and benevolence toting “healers”?

– Sadly I know what the majority think to be the solution to be.


  1. Mackie

    I had a back operation 2 neck and 2 shoulder operations. The pain in my back is at times unbearable . When I cook I can only stand 5 mins at a time rest and carry on cooking. NO pain tablets helps . Can u help me please?

  2. These pictures are NOT from Durban. Look at the snow on the glass of the greenhouse shots. It doesn’t snow in Durban neh.

    1. drevil

      its not snow Einstein

    2. Thanks Knew Sprout. Very observant. I bin telling everyone that is not the HoH site in Dube Port. But of my travels in the world. I find the journalists are not investigating. They are just writing what they are told by their friends? No one even asked my side of the story?

    3. solrek

      Looks very much like the structures in Durban, and that is not snow like you think. The glass is sometimes painted (white washed) to control the amount of incoming light, over and above the screens that are already part of the facility.

  3. G

    Profit profit profit !!!!!
    That’s what they all after if its government it’s for profit amongst themselves

    There are big fish that be swimming in this ocean … what do big fish eat …. not seaweed


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