The apartheid regime was terrified of white people interacting with black people, and saw cannabis as a dangerous enabler. They ensured it stayed prohibited, perceiving it as a “danger” to race relations.
It has not always been considered off limits in South Africa. In Basotho tradition, cannabis has long been used to ease childbirth – an appreciation for its analgesic properties shared by many civilisations around the world.
Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis to ease her menstrual cramps, and her physician wrote in the medical journal The Lancet: “When pure and administered carefully, it is one of the most valuable medicines we possess.”
A Chinese medical book from 2737 BC said cannabis treated gout, constipation, rheumatism and absent-mindedness. Shamans in the Middle East would burn it to enter a trance state, which led to them being called “those who walk on smoke”. Pipes dug up in William Shakespeare’s backyard were found to have traces of cannabis.
The arrival of Dutch settlers limited consumption in South Africa. Cannabis sativa – varieties of which may be legally grown overseas because of a low percentage of THC (the chemical compound that makes people high) – was banned for black people.