Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2016
Source: Daily News, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2016 The Daily 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


Stop Arresting South Africans for Low-Level Use, Write Myrtle Clarke 
and Julian Stobbs

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. 
Minister of Police, Nkosinathi Nhleko, and Deputy Minister of Social 
Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, were there in their official capacity.

But South Africa's comments on the outcome document were as bland as 
the majority of other countries, and a report that described the 
whole special session as a "damp squib" was quite accurate.

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 the cannabis policy is over. 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 the state's 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 countries, which are signatories to the UN conventions, 
have indicated their intention to follow a path of "principled 
non-compliance". South Africa could 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 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 the legalisation of 

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 a priority should be to get the 
harmful practice 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. 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.

You will most probably be arrested on a Thursday or Friday so the 
police can have the satisfaction of keeping you in jail over the weekend.

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 taxpayers R3.5 billion a year.

If your relationship is not working out, your partner can use your 
cannabis use against you much easier than if you were a drinker. A 
significant number of parents face losing access to their children 
because of cannabis prohibition.

It is seldom, if ever, that the 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 South African police threaten to continue with their practise of 
spraying rural communities with glyphosate poison while the WHO warns 
that the poison is probably carcinogenic.

The SAPS uses 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 gets to see 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 lauded on national radio and TV, to say nothing of 
a constant flow of information on social media.

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


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 in South Africa 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 for all South Africans for 
all uses of this plant.

More than 50% of South Africans want cannabis law reform. The time is 
right for South Africans to contribute to a mature debate that 
informs the undecided and leaves the naysayers arguing on the wrong 
side of history. (Until they get sick and want to try cannabis 
medicine as a last resort, of course!)

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