Cannabis & Canapax: healing not dealing?

WHILE THE Canadian state of Ontario was removing the cap on the number of marijuana shops in the province, South Africa’s drug enforcement agencies were busy taking down a dagga dispensary franchise operation known as Canapax. News of cannabis operations being opened to the public overseas were met by stories of SAPS beating up on local dagga activists. The death of Rastafarian Jan de Bruin at the hands of law enforcement, is a particularly galling example. De Bruin’s crime, having the audacity to grow weed in the small town of Wellington.

The country’s inability to deal with the ramifications and nuances of the end of prohibition  follows a groundbreaking ConCourt ruling last year which allows use of the herb in private, yet expressly forbids dealing, while granting Parliament a period in which to review regulations.

Canapax, a going concern was ostensibly rolled out in terms of the ‘Traditional Health Practitioners Act of 2007’ (THP). The result was a tragic case of magical thinking. Franchisees sincerely believed that Canapax had all its papers in order, and was operating as a registered entity under the act.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, to put it mildly. Since in terms of the law, it is still an offence to practice as a traditional healer without a licence  — health practitioners may not prescribe nor examine patients without authorisation under a regime, which is essentially based upon a medical model.

Fields of Green a website published by Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke maintain that the real reason was that THP precludes healers from prescribing any ‘dependence producing or dangerous substance or drug.”

The statement were supposedly backed up by a briefing issued by SAPS and comes after a directive was issued by the NPA on the subject calling upon officers to obey the ConCourt decision.

That both law enforcement and the so-called Dagga Couple had it wrong can be seen  by the fact that our apex court had already ruled that dagga was no longer a dangerous , dependency causing substance but rather could be used in private. The law in this respect had yet to be confirmed by parliament.

As I suggested to Gareth Prince and Richard Kraak, during the period of the High Court trial, your crime is essentially, ‘baking bread in a no-baking zone’. Microbrewers of gin don’t have the same problem as growers of cannabis in selling their product,  nor do bakers of bread, what exactly is going on?

The ConCourt decision essentially shifted weed from the realm of the narcotics and medicines act into the realm of the liquor act, at least insofar as harm was concerned. Ganga is no more harmful than a tipple and in many respects less harmful than alcohol.

Here is another way of looking at this: Under Dagga Prohibition, the law had three pillars; 1) Dagga is a dangerous, dependency causing substance and therefore is prohibited 2) It must follow that no dealing or possession is allowed 3) You cannot grow or produce a prohibited substance.

Along came the ConCourt decision, down went pillar one:

1) Dagga no longer dangerous

2) It read into law the decision, and gave Parliament two years to come up with regulations.

3) It maintained the regime with regard to dealing, but stated that possession and growing in private was allowed.

It doesn’t take much further reasoning to show how dagga prohibition came to an end, and how dealing in dagga today, is about as bad as dealing in bread without a licence.

Yet absolutely nobody gets bust for baking bread or distilling alcohol these days. It serves no purpose to continue to claim that dagga is harmful and ergo, must be regulated.

There really is no sense in cannabis culture continuing to pursue a medical model ( ditto patient confidentiality?) and for regulators to continue to pursue a regime which no longer has constitutional validity.

If anything Canapax erred in not seeking proper registration with the THP council. Under THP penalties are imposed on individuals who practice as traditional healers sans registration.

This model was clearly not the best vehicle for a commercial dispensary operation, and yet, significantly, THP does create a system for dispensing ganga which is no longer considered dangerous, but only if you happen to be licensed. No need to read new laws, while we here, may as well state the obvious, ganga has been prescribed for many decades by registered alternative health practitioners, they are not dealing, but healing.

Evidence lead during the ConCourt “trial of the plant’ was that dagga had many health benefits, and the evidence is both mounting and persuasive.

Clearly, Traditional Health Practitioners may prescribe cannabis,  as a complimentary traditional therapy, but may run foul of the law in calling it a medicine.

It is surely up to our legislature to clarify and refine the regulations.

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