Pubdate: Sat, 27 Feb 2016
Source: Star, The (South Africa)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers 2016
Author: Janet Smith


Preparing for Seminal Court Battle Over Legalising Cannabis Use

SUPPORTERS of a major constitutional challenge should have been 
tramping across lush green grass in the valley of Witfontein outside 
Joburg today for Weedstock 2016.

The Bronkhorstspruit far m was set to be transformed into a 
fundraising festival for the legalisation of cannabis. It would have 
run until tomorrow, but was cancelled this week under stringent new 
laws which police all public gatherings.

Weedstock is an initiative of the Fields of Green for All movement, 
which supports the efforts of two South Africans and their lawyers to 
challenge certain laws in terms of the constitution, and see the 
responsible adult use of cannabis legalised.

But hurdles such as this have become part of life for Myrtle Clarke 
and Julian Stobbs, known as the "dagga couple", who have become 
significant activists in the global cannabis legislation movement.

The couple planned to mount a constitutional challenge out of their 
beliefs at the Pretoria High Court next month, but the so-called 
Trial of the Plant, for which Weedstock was a fund-raiser, has been 
postponed. Gauteng Deputy Judge President (DJP) Aubrey Ledwaba has 
said he plans to put it under judicial case management to secure readiness.

A mammoth 20-day trial is expected at which expert witnesses will 
appear for both Clarke and Stobbs, and the State.

The State will likely argue the "menace" of what is now an illegal 
substance, and whose use still results in around 1,000 arrests a day here.

The dagga couple say that to argue for legalisation, "one should need 
only to scientifically establish marijuana as falling within the 
established legislative line in the sand".

According to their attorney, Paul-Michael Keichel of Schindlers, "the 
most appropriate platform is to constitute a comparison between those 
individuals, treated as criminals, who would use and, or, possess 
marijuana for recreational purposes and those, treated as 'functional 
people', who, for the same purposes, possess and, or, use tobacco and 
alcohol, alone or in combination".

"If marijuana can be shown to be as, or less, harmful than these two 
substances, then it can be said to fall within the legislative line 
in the sand."

He explains that the delay of the trial is not sinister, but rather, 
"a management decision by the DJP, so that 20 days' worth of judges' 
time isn't allocated, only to arrive on the day and find it's not trial-ready".

"With judicial case management, a judge gets everything in a row to 
be certain it's going to run." Keichel said the trial "remains about 
the rights of every citizen, assuming we win.

"Whether you exercise the right to consume cannabis or not, the fact 
is that - again, should we win  you would be afforded that right."

Having had their home in Lanseria dramatically raided by police in 
2010, Clarke and Stobbs became "reluctant activists".

They have a stay in prosecution on their own criminal matter pending 
the outcome of the constitutional case. But much has changed since 2010.

Their website is now equipped to raise money and they're soon to 
launch Proudly Green, which will use celebrities to address the 
stigma. Clarke says "tolerance of people who use cannabis is at 
breaking point".

However, the judicial case management of their constitutional 
challenge is "excellent". "We've now got a judge as a mediator. What 
more can we ask for?"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom