Pubdate: Sat, 14 Nov 2015
Source: Star, The (South Africa)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers 2015
Author: Janet Smith


Couple Hope Court Will Agree All Have Freedom of Choice on Smoking Pot

THE laws haven't changed, so Myrtle Clark and Julian Stobbs are "very 
discreet". "We are cannabis users," say the pair, who are open about 
supporting the legalisation of dagga.
"But we're not like a lot of other users. We don't have jobs to lose. 
We don't have to fight child custody battles."

They're sitting around a table surrounded by exotica at The Jazzfarm, 
the small, happy retreat business they run near Lanseria Airport. 
This is the spot where police infamously raided them in August 2010, 
accusing them of running a drug lab, and instead found a couple of 
ordinary people with not a hothouse in sight.

Like many South Africans, they kept a stash of marijuana for personal 
recreational use. But since that event five years ago, the pair - 
dubbed the Dagga Couple - have been transformed. From being working 
people with jobs primarily in TV and filmmaking, they became 
unexpected activists.

Now they are the most wellknown campaigners for one of South Africa's 
most glaring anomalies: illegal weed.

They are as surprised as anybody. But as their campaign gathers speed 
before what is being called The Trial of the Plant in March next 
year, Clark and Stobbs are serious and committed. They face 
prosecution unless their lawyers at top Joburg legal firm Schindlers 
can prove to the judges that the constitution supports the choice to 
enjoy freely one of the world's most ubiquitous highs.

"The court process is expensive," Clark explains. "There's the stress 
and the stigma. We've heard of someone in Boksburg who was caught for 
having a dozen plants to help him deal with his debilitating illness, 
and now even his local garage shop doesn't want to serve him."

There may be a view that police turn a blind eye to marijuana. The 
couple say that isn't true.

"There are 1,000 arrests a day for cannabis. In the 305 magistrate's 
courts around the country, there are at least three cases a day. Weed 
users are the cash cow, the low-hanging fruit."

In preparing for their trial, which is likely to draw global 
attention, particularly through its international expert witnesses, 
Clark and Stobbs have tracked dagga arrests around the country to 
understand the terrain. They can say, for instance, that the police 
stations at Douglasdale and Randburg in Joburg are the most rigorous 
in taking people in.

"Honestly," quips Stobbs, "the worst place to be if you're caught 
with dagga is the Randburg police station. It's 19th century."

With their website offering a helpline and equipped to raise money 
through the international crowdfunding site Indiegogo, they are also 
getting "a lot of calls from people who want to know how they can set 
up a weed plantation once it's legalised and make money off it".

But that's not their intention. They don't want to become farmers. 
They're not even advocating particularly on behalf of people who, 
say, are having chemotherapy and find dagga helps them overcome the 

"For us," Clark says, "this is about our human right to decide 
whether to use it recreationally. We honestly spend our time trying 
to help people who've been in a bust rather than dealing with people 
battling cancer."

Once they decided to commit themselves to the non-profit organisation 
they called Fields of Green for ALL, "a few underground activists 
came out of the woodwork", Clark says.

"That helped us to be able to start to correlate what we were doing 
with others, largely through the internet. I think we started at the 
right time. We really didn't know anything in the beginning  we 
didn't know the depth of cannabis medicine, for instance."

Then, "the human rights angle started to take shape in our minds". 
They read as much literature as they could, and the issue of Cape 
Town law graduate Gareth Prince's Constitutional Court case in 2002, 
came up again and again.

It's a difficult one. Prince, a Rastafarian, narrowly lost his 
application to be allowed to use dagga for religious purposes, 
creating the impression that the possibility of the plant ever being 
legalised for personal - or even medicinal - use was done and dusted.

But Stobbs and Clark, through Schindlers, say there is plenty of room 
to manoeuvre, constitutionally speaking.

Prince is taking his matter back to the courts in the Western Cape in 
the first week of next month, together with aspirant politician 
Jeremy Acton of the Dagga Party.

For Stobbs and Clark, though, the fight is being pursued almost 
entirely through social media.

"We need absolutely everybody who feels they can to contribute. The 
fund-raising is primarily to bring in international expert witnesses."

Stobbs says they were confounded "by the algorithm" at first. "We 
thought we'd be getting the occasional $1 from broke-ass stoners 
barely able to get up off the couch to press Enter." Instead, about 
eight in 1,000 people who visit the site donate.

The ballpark for contributions is $25 (R360), leading Stobbs to 
remark that "it costs R70 for two grams of ganja, or R180 for some 
serious cheese in Cape Town". Their target is $80 000, although a 
high court matter such as theirs can cost up to R4.2 million. The 
couple say they are "living hand to mouth" as they have had to give 
up their jobs to run this campaign. A sweat lodge at The Jazzfarm "ticks over".

In the end, their hope is that dagga becomes not only allowed, 
recreationally, but begins to contribute properly to the economy. But 
they issue a caution to those who think they'll be able to start a 
cannabis-growing business if the plant is legalised.

Stobb says: "If you grow a hectare, it's going to cost you about R480 
000 for security alone, because a crop like that can be worth R10 million."

Clark reckons "it's only going to be in about eight to 10 years that 
all of that craziness will be over".

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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom