South Africa has finally woken up to the fact of a new political party on the scene. The Dagga Party was officially registered in January 2011 and is participating in the May 2011 Local Elections as the first political party to contest apartheid-era drug laws which make it an offense to possess dagga, also known as cannabis, zol, weed and skyf. The party’s website explains the decision of party leader Jeremy Acton to support decrminalisation and provides “12 good reasons to vote for Cannabis/Dagga”
Alongside uses such as a natural protein supplement, the party supplies medical uses:”The narcotic ingredient in Cannabis, THC (delta 9-Tetrahydrocannibinol), is useful for the treatment of pain, nausea, asthma, colds and flu, menstrual cramps, opiate addiction, alcoholism, Crohn’s disease, spastic colon, muscular spasm in Multiple Sclerosis, glaucoma of the eye, AIDS-related wasting, motor neurone disease, mental irritability, depression, ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, pain in haemochromatosis, and it is supportive in radiation and chemotherapy against cancer. Cannabis has been shown to cure many different cancers.”
It is perhaps the first time anybody has advocated for medical marijuana in South Africa, despite there being a considerable and vociferous lobby amongst local rastafarian communities. Readers may recall the case of Gareth Prince which went before the Constitutional Court in 2001. Like so many cases dealing with religious freedoms, the pro-Christian bias in our legal system won the day and Prince’s case was dismissed. Freedom of religion in South Africa is only for those of a particular religion it would seem.
Despite these set-backs, the country has been witness to an annual Marijuana March/Weed Day. More recently the spectacle of Paris Hilton being bust with a joint at the World Cup made news headlines. Truth is, South Africa has lagged behind law reform in other countries.
Dagga may be used for medicinal purposes in 15 US states and the District of Columbia, it has been decriminalized in 12 states. It has been decriminalised in Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Israel, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Canada, Argentina and Belgium and some states of Australia. It is legal in Cambodia and Uruguay.
The process of law reform has tended to follow a medical model, with marijuana becoming available via prescription first, before its introduction into mainstream society for recreational purposes. In Oakland California a thriving cottage industry has revitalized poor neighbourhoods where coffee houses serve the best sensimilla to customers, thus providing jobs. The “Oaksterdam” emulation of Amsterdam’s longstanding liberalisation of cannabis is a good example of the reinstroduction of dagga as a legal product and the benefits of ending prohibition.
There are compelling reasons why dagga should be legalised. For starters, the principle of harm reduction would unburden the state of petty crime, alleviating the load on legal services and our prisons. It makes no sense to enforce laws which target the poor, who then become trapped in a system which criminalises a form of intoxication which has been associated with South African indigenous culture for centuries. There really is no evidence that dagga is any more of a gateway to hard-drugs than prescription painkillers. Yet we all know how readily available pain killers and other medication such as cough syrup is from a local pharmacy.
The Dagga Party has a lot going for it, it would be the realisation of the article 12 rights guaranteed by our constitution which enshrines the right to “ownership of and control over the body”. Having a state which essentially maintains dominion over its citizens minds and bodies is a throw-back to the apartheid past. South Africa should rather embrace law reform, at very least the demand for medical marijuana. Instead we have now witnessed attempts to criminalise the activity of the Dagga Party. Acton was recently arrested at home. Instead of moving towards law reform, the ANC ruling party has sort to increase penalties and expand prohibition to include alcohol. President’s Zuma’s moral regeneration movement is pushing for the closure of township taverns and the raising of the drinking age from 18 to 21.
If a person is old enough to vote, surely they are old enough to decide for themselves what to do with their bodies?