South Africa on Thursday held its first cannabis industry exhibition since the constitutional court ruled private, personal cannabis use was legal, attracting scores of entrepreneurs and consumers.

Although no smoking was allowed at the venue, hundreds of people attended the trade show including producers, manufacturers, brand owners, distilleries and brewers.

“It is an enormous opportunity and I don’t think people realise how big it is. If we look at the market, it is enormous when you look at what is happening in America and Canada,” said Steve Carver, 50, a director at U Can Grow Africa which sub-lets land for cannabis cultivation.

Another attendee Sifiso Pretorius, who has a licence to cultivate the plant, said the profits derived from cannabis based products were “unbelievable”.

“It’s a huge industry and its mainly export based, dollar based. The potential is huge,” he said.

The country’s top court decriminalised private use and cultivation of the herb in September, although it did not decriminalise the use of the drug in public — nor the offences of supplying or dealing.

From medicinal oils, dog treats and even pure hemp clothing, attendees were treated to a world of cannabis-derived products from the southern Africa region.

– ‘Make this industry viable’ –

Zimbabwean-born fashion business owner Haanes Swan, 25, who sells tailored hemp clothing, praised the cost-effective nature of the plant.

“The fabric is four times stronger than cotton and takes half the amount of water to grow.”

“Eventually we will grow hemp in Zimbabwe by the end of next year. We will be able to clothe people for almost next to nothing,” Swan said.

For others, the decriminalisation is a chance to cash in on the budding industry in a country where unemployment is stubbornly high.

“I wanted information about growing and cultivating because I want to do that myself. I’m quite happy with what I got because I know where to find seeds and everything else to start,” law student Amogelang Shadi, 24 said.

Dressed in Rastafari colours, director of the privately-owned Marijuana Board of South Africa, Rasta Sphesihle Madola, told AFP that the rasta community was also working with farmers and growers associations to profit from the plant.

“As we are rasta we are about the economy of cannabis, we know that it makes money in the world. We call on international investors to invest and make this industry viable,” Madola added.

The South African parliament now has just under 24 months to draft new laws that reflect the decriminalisation court order.