Pubdate: Sat, 09 Jul 2016
Source: Dispatch (South Africa)
Copyright: 2016 Dispatch.
Author: David MacGregor


After 40 Years Dope Goes Mainstream at Festival

AFTER more than 40 years on the fringe of the National Arts Festival 
in Grahamstown, dagga finally stepped out of the shadows and into the 

Usually whispered about in hushed tones and smoked in dark corners, 
pot took centre stage as red-eyed stoners, blue rinse pensioners and 
academics scrambled to find out more about weed at talks on 
decriminalisation and the medicinal benefits of the plant.

Even South Africa's high profile "Dagga Couple", Jules Stobbs and 
Myrtle Clarke, made the long haul to festival city where they smoked 
high quality cannabis oil from an odourless vapouriser at a busy High 
Street coffee shop.

"This is the best thing ever," Stobbs explained as he loaded an oil 
drop into the electronic vaporiser.

Pulling long and hard, Stobbs blew out a massive cloud on the crowded 
verandah without worry.

"Everybody is using them nowadays ... you can light up anywhere you 
like and nobody has a clue," he chuckles.

Similar to e-cigarettes, vaporisers have been selling like hot cakes 
at the festival as smokers clamber to get their hands on them.

Besides the exhaled smoke being completely odourless, cannabis 
connoisseurs say another benefit is they don't smell or get red eyes 
after a smoke.

After smoking pot their entire lives, Stobbs and Clarke became the 
South African poster couple of legalisation after they were busted at 
their house in 2010 with more than 115 grams of dagga.

Instead of rolling over and pleading guilty to dealing and getting a 
criminal record, the couple did what thousands before had only 
dreamed of and mounted a legal challenge claiming the laws that 
banned the plant were a relic of apartheid.

Supported by dagga smokers, the couple has raised hundreds of 
thousands through crowd funding to fly in world experts to testify at 
the landmark court case that has been dubbed the "trial of the plant".

According to the Dagga Couple, they are not just campaigning for the 
right for over-18s to be allowed to smoke pot "responsibly", they are 
also doing it for people to use and grow the plant for cultural, 
religious and medical reasons.

"We are doing this for all uses of the plant," Myrtle explained.

"We don't want to compartmentalise it  South Africans should be able 
to use dagga however they like."

Billed as the biggest trial of a generation, the couple have lined up 
some of the top names in the scientific world to testify on the 
positive uses of dagga.

They also got a stay of prosecution on their dealing charge until 
after the landmark case is concluded and many other South Africans 
have done the same thanks to their Join The Queue campaign.

At a Think!Fest talk titled Weeding Out Legislative Hypocrisy, Dagga 
Couple lawyer PaulMichael Keichel, from top legal firm Schindlers, 
said flying out expert witnesses was vital to properly deal with the issues.

He said opinions on dagga ranged from "devil cabbage" that will cause 
the sky to fall on your head to others that tout it as a miracle cure-all.

According to Keichel, rational thought and consistent lawmaking was 
needed to properly tackle what was fundamentally a human rights issue.

He said research had revealed cannabis use was less harmful than 
legal fixes like tobacco and alcohol and that years of prohibition 
did little to stem the tide of people using it and getting busted.

Billions are wasted each year waging an unnecessary war on dagga that 
criminalises normally law-abiding citizens for smoking a joint in the 
comfort of their own home.

"Whether you are pro or against dagga, you need to ask yourself if 
you are comfortable putting people in prison for this usage."

Keichel said the money could be better spent on other more pressing 
social issues.

"We cannot use anecdotes as the basis for our ideas and laws, we need 
to find out whether our longstanding beliefs are legitimate in this context."

According to Keichel, the Dagga Couple were a "very respectable 
couple" who were nice human beings.

Their only "crime" was that they derived great pleasure smoking dagga.

During another wellattended Think!Fest panel discussion entitled 
Decriminalising Dagga, medical experts and dagga users discussed the 
pros and cons of using the weed.

Fort England psychiatric hospital senior clinical psychologist Dr 
Scott Wood said although dagga was the first illegal drug most youth 
experimented with, it was usually preceded by trying cigarettes first.

He said 80% of people in rehab for substance abuse had started out 
smoking dagga.

Although research did raise concerns over how early use impacted 
brain development in younger smokers, Wood conceded that little 
research had been done on the health benefits of dagga.

He said unlike other substances, dagga stayed in a person's system 
for a month or more and regular users developed a tolerance that 
required using more to get high.

"The problem with research is that it can be manipulated by the 
people doing it to come up with the outcomes they want."

Another panellist, Dr Celia Jameson, said the use of dagga in 
palliative care of terminally ill people had helped improve their 
quality of life during their final days.

"It can be highly successful, but there is a downside  it is a very 
controversial field."

She said certain people were affected more by using dagga and some 
even experienced negative correlation in pre-frontal activity of the brain.

During a talk at the popular 37 on New nightclub, the Dagga Couple 
laid out their struggles to light up without getting busted.

Emboldened by the Dagga Couple's struggle, many in the audience  from 
all walks of life  lit up ganja spliffs or passed around vaporisers 
as they listened intently.

Although there did not appear to be any police in the audience, 
Stobbs said they often packed into venues across the country where 
the couple gave their pro dagga presentations to hear what they had to say.

According to Stobbs, millions of South Africans used dagga or oil 
including police.

"The cops come to most of our presentations, a lot of them smoke 
dagga .. if you were a cop you would too.

"They take your weed and then smoke it themselves."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom