Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2016
Source: Pretoria News, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2016 The Pretoria News
Authors: Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs
Note: Clarke and Stobbs are also known as The Dagga Couple, and 
represent Fields of Green for ALL, a cannabis legislation NPC.


Trial of the Plant to Lay Foundation for Future Policy

THE CRACKS in the policies that prohibit the use, cultivation and 
trade in cannabis in South Africa are beginning to show. Fields of 
Green for ALL representatives attended the recent UN Special Session 
on Drugs in New York as civil society delegates. Our minister of 
police and deputy minister of social development were there in their 
official capacities. But South Africa's comments on the outcome 
document were as bland as most of the other countries, and a report 
that described the whole special session as a "damp squib" was quite 
accurate. Dagga couple Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs seem to be 
making headway in their fight for the legalisation of cannabis.

However, it was inspiring and enlightening to be part of a gathering 
of so many movers and shakers in the drug policy world, rarely in one 
place at one time. The time for using the UN as an excuse for not 
making significant changes in cannabis policy is over. The latest 
legal research done at Radboud University in The Netherlands finds 
that "the regulated cultivation and trade of cannabis for 
recreational use is permissible on the basis of states' positive 
human rights obligations.

Pleas for the regulated cultivation and trade of recreational 
cannabis are often based on arguments related to individual and 
public health, the safety of citizens and the fight against crime: 
the so-called positive human rights obligations.

A number of signatories to the UN conventions have indicated their 
intention to follow a path of "principled non-compliance". South 
Africa can join these countries in exposing the shortcomings of the 
conventions by deciding their own policies through strategic 
litigation and consultation with its citizens. This will require our 
authorities to acknowledge the fact that the harms of prohibition far 
outweigh the perceived harms of the plant. Hot on the tail of 
International developments comes a statement by the Central Drug 
Authority (CDA), published in the South African Medical Journal at 
the beginning of this month. "There is an ongoing national debate 
around cannabis policy... These recommendations emphasise an 
integrated and evidence-based approach, the need for resources to 
implement harm reduction strategies against continued and chronic use 
of alcohol and cannabis and the potential value of a focus on 
decriminalisation rather than legalisation of cannabis."

All progressive drug policy debates speak about "harm reduction". 
There are many ways to achieve this, the most common being therapy, 
rehab, needle exchanges, etc, but priority should be to get the 
harmful practise of cannabis prohibition out of the way first. 
Decriminalisation of cannabis is just that, the first stage of a harm 
reduction approach. For us, the first stage of any harm reduction 
programme must be to stop arresting South Africans for low-level 
personal cannabis use.

There are an estimated 1 000 arrests a day for cannabis in the 
country. If you are arrested on a cannabis charge and you do not pay 
a bribe, you will spend time in jail before you have a chance to 
plead your case. You are considered a threat to society and guilty 
until you prove yourself innocent. Being arrested for cannabis and 
the threat of a criminal record will cost you dearly in time, money, 
stress, humiliation and frustration. Keeping cannabis illegal costs 
South African taxpayers R3.5 billion per year. If your relationship 
isn't working out, your partner can use your cannabis use against you 
much easier than if you were a drinker. A significant number of 
parents risk losing access to their children because of cannabis prohibition.

It is seldom, if ever, that cannabis use is a problem; it is usually 
a personal vendetta and dagga is the easy scapegoat. 
Decriminalisation does not cover this aspect of the harmful laws. If 
there are disputes or retrenchments looming at work, your boss can 
call in the drug test squad and fire you with no compensation if you 
test positive for cannabis. Decriminalisation does not stop this. The 
police threaten to continue with their practice of spraying rural 
communities with glyphosate poison while the WHO warns that the 
poison is probably carcinogenic. The SAPS use the international 
conventions as its main reason for continuing this nefarious 
practice. Decriminalisation will not stop this harm. Millions have 
been spent on industrial cannabis trials over the past 20 years , but 
there are still no permits available. Vested interests, gatekeepers 
and corruption make sure that, even when trials are conducted in an 
open and honest way, nobody sees the results. Decriminalisation will 
not help the hemp industry as long as licences are inaccessible to 
ordinary farmers. Tens of thousands of South Africans use cannabis as 
medicine. The benefits have been widely lauded. The IFP has made 
noble statements about its Medical Innovation Bill, but is vehemently 
opposed to responsible adult use.

So who is going to play God then? Are we going to leave it up to the 
IFP to decide whether you are sick enough to use this plant or is 
some government committee going to decide that a terminally ill 
person's rights are more important than those of a healthy 
individual? Decriminalisation will not allow you to grow your own 
medicine and affordable cannabis medicine will remain illegal. We 
understand that legalisation is a big leap for the CDA right now. 
They speak of an evidence-based approach but to them, use of cannabis 
equals abuse of cannabis.

It and alcohol are always lumped together when the evidence says 
alcohol is far more dangerous than cannabis. Substance abuse 
disorders relating to alcohol claim many lives each year. No one has 
ever died from ingesting cannabis, even over many years.Yes, it is 
good news that the CDA is calling for the decriminalisation of 
cannabis but it does not address the issues of the "black market" and 
continues to criminalise growers for a crop that has been a useful 
resource for hundreds of years.

Is it going to be okay to possess a small amount of cannabis while 
cultivation and trade remain illegal? Decriminalisation is an 
obsolete, 20th century paradigm. Both sides of the legalisation 
argument will be heard in a rational way in South Africa. During "The 
Trial of the Plant" in the high court in Pretoria in July/August next 
year, evidence will give citizens and politicians a solid foundation 
with which to decide future policy.

South Africa has a strong judiciary, a Bill of Rights and a liberal 
Constitution. These democratic tools give us the right to make up our 
own minds about cannabis, despite our government's Brics affiliations 
putting them in a drug policy bed with the patriarchs of prohibition, 
Russia and China.

By making a statement that moves in the right direction, the CDA has 
inadvertently published a call to action.

Now there is little room for the "gateway theory" or its lame 
counterparts as the bigger question of what legal cannabis will look 
like takes centre stage. Will other political parties join the EFF in 
the legalisation debate and will these parties follow through with 
their promises after elections?

Will South Africans come out of the cannabis closet?

Once we win in court, we will use the massive public support gained 
to make sure Parliament changes the law. More than 50%of South 
Africans want cannabis law reform.

Questions remain but the debate has just moved up a notch.

Is this the death knell of the last apartheid law?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom