Pubdate: Mon, 25 Apr 2016
Source: Business Day (South Africa)
Copyright: 2016 Business Day.


It Would Help to Relieve Suffering of Many People

Dagga Could Be a Source of Income ... and an Export Crop in Which Sa 
Has a Competitive Advantage

A UNITED Nations (UN) summit on drugs last week ended with no change 
to the global 1998 agreement banning use, despite calls from many 
countries for a new approach.

That is a pity for the global "war on drugs", which has done little 
to arrest the ills of drug addiction and, if anything, has increased 
the violence and criminality associated with the drugs trade. It is a 
pity too for SA, where stalled efforts to decriminalise dagga, 
especially for medical use, will not be helped by UN intransigence.

The general assembly special session was scheduled in response to 
lobbying by three of the world's biggest sources of addictive, opiate 
drugs - Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia - who called for "more humane" 
solutions that go beyond the focus on law enforcement and 
criminalisation currently.

For those countries, the war on drugs has failed to wipe out the drug 
trade, and has attracted more highly organised criminal syndicates 
and generated higher levels of violence. The Guardian reports that in 
Mexico, narcotrafficking-related murders cut male life expectancy by 
half since 2010.

A divided UN declined to change the agreement, which focused on 
prohibition. Decriminalisation advocates point to how out of step the 
UN now is with evolving modern policy approaches.

A host of countries have lately decriminalised drugs such as dagga, 
mainly but not exclusively, for medicinal use. Among them are 
Portugal and Switzerland, while in the US, the states of Washington 
and Colorado have legalised the sale of dagga for recreational 
purposes. Canada has promised to do so, and Uruguay has become the 
first country in the world to legalise the production and sale of dagga.

Dagga has proven therapeutic uses for controlling nausea in 
chemotherapy patients and boosting appetite in those living with HIV.

It has several other applications, such as in the control of 
Tourette's Syndrome and other conditions that scientists are free to 
investigate and develop in countries where there is decriminalistion.

But the debate has become bogged down in SA, where the late Inkatha 
Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini introduced the Medical 
Innovation Bill to Parliament not long before he died of cancer in 2014.

There are many ways of arguing the case for decriminalising dagga, 
not least that it is a crucial survival crop for many small farmers 
in the Eastern Cape, which produces some of the world's best dagga. 
It could be a source of income for those with no other prospects of 
employment, and an export crop in which SA has a competitive advantage.

Decriminalising dagga could open up a whole new source of revenue for 
the fiscus, and would likely lessen the need for criminal syndicates 
to become involved, helping to reduce violence and crime in the drug trade.

There is an equality argument too, with some arguing that the use of 
dagga is no more dangerous or even addictive than alcohol or tobacco. 
And traditional healers in SA have long used dagga as part of their 
medicine chest.

The most immediate and compelling argument, however, is that 
decriminalising dagga's use and encouraging research on it for 
medicinal purposes, would help to relieve the suffering of many 
people at relatively low cost. In a world in which science is 
examining even more exotic drugs that enhance the brain or modify its 
functions, dagga seems relatively harmless.

There is evidence to suggest, however, that the drug may be a gateway 
to more dangerous stuff for the young and vulnerable, and that dagga 
may pose risks to developing brains. That needs to be looked at more 
systematically. But there is a strong case for at least partial 
decriminalisation in SA.

As an article in this newspaper argued last week, the parliamentary 
debate over the Medical Innovation Bill has become bogged down over 
decriminalising recreational and commercial dagga use. That should 
not be allowed to be a bar to decriminalising it for medicinal use 
and research. That must be pursued with urgency, and the bill must be 
redrafted as soon as possible to ensure that it can be passed into law.

Meanwhile, legislators and policy makers should continue to look at 
ways in which dagga might be partially decriminalised for commercial 
and recreational use in a way that provides adequate safeguards.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom