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


First, We Need to Stop the Arrests for Low-Level Use, but 
Decriminalisation Doesn't Go Far Enough; We Must Push for 
Legalisation, 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. Our minister of 
police and deputy minister of social development 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 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 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 and needle exchanges, 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 harmreduction 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 South 
Africa. If you are arrested on a cannabis charge in South Africa 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 that 
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 South African taxpayers R3.5 billion a 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 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 practice of 
spraying rural communities with glyphosate poison while the World 
Health Organisation warns 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 in South Africa, 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 South African 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 about their Medical Innovation Bill, but are 
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.

Cannabis and alcohol are always lumped together when the evidence 
says that 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 large amounts 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 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 or 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 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 half 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