Pubdate: Sat, 14 Nov 2015
Source: Pretoria News, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2015 The Pretoria News
Author: Janet Smith


With About 1,000 Daily Busts, It's Untrue That Cops Turn Blind Eye to It

THE LAWS haven't changed, so Myrtle Clark and Julian Stobbs say they 
are "very discreet". "We are cannabis users," they say, open about 
their support of 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 operate near Lanseria Airport.

This is the same spot where police infamously raided them in August 
2010, accusing them of running a drug lab, and instead finding a pair 
of ordinary people with not a hothouse in sight.

Like many other 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 movie and 
TV-making, they became unexpected activists.

Now they are the country's best-known campaigners for one of South 
Africa's most glaring anomalies: illegal weed.

They're as surprised as anybody. But as their campaign gathers speed 
ahead of what's being called The Trial of the Plant in March next 
year, Clark and Stobbs are serious and committed.

And it's no joke. They still face prosecution unless their lawyers, 
top Joburg firm Schindlers, can prove to the judges that the 
Constitution supports the choice to freely partake of one of the 
world's most ubiquitous highs.

"The court process is very 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 might be a view that police turn a blind eye to dagg use. The 
couple say that simply 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, 
they've tracked dagga arrests around the country in order to properly 
understand the terrain.

They can say, for instance, that among the most vociferous police 
stations in terms of taking people in for use are Douglasdale and 
Randburg in Joburg.

"Honestly," quips Stobbs, "the worst place to be if you're caught 
with dagga is the Randburg police station. It's 19th century. It's 
like being in an Indonesian jail. You can be made to feel like you 
are evil and the anti-Christ."

But with their website now equipped to raise money through 
international crowd-funding site Indiegogo, as well as offering a 
helpine, they're 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 Clark and Stobbs's intention. They don't want to become farmers.

They don't even want to wear T-shirts extolling the virtues of hemp 
"which can be boring".

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 or not. We honestly spend our time 
trying to help people who've been in a bust rather than dealing with 
people battling cancer."

She says that 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".

"And 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 really 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 around the subject, and 
the issue of Cape Town-based lawyer Gareth Prince and his 
now-infamous case at the Constitutional Court 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, came to understand that 
this was not true.

They say there is still plenty of room to manoeuvre in terms of the 

Prince is taking his matter back to the courts in the Western Cape in 
the first week of December, 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 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 (R14) from broke-ass 
stoners who were barely able to get up off the couch to be able to 
press Enter."

Instead, about eight in 1 000 people who visit their site, donate.

The ballpark for contributions is $25 (R358), leading Stobbs to 
remark that "it costs R70 for 2gm 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 R4.2m.

The couple say they are "living hand to mouth" at the moment, as 
they've had to give up their jobs in order 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 also begins to contribute properly to the 
economy. But they issue a caution to those who think they'll be able 
to quickly start a cannabis-growing business if the plant is legalised.

"If you grow a hectare, it's going to cost you about R480 000 for 
security alone," advises Stobbs, "because a crop like that can be worth R10m."

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

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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom