WHILE South Africans were contemplating the effects of land reform and a technical recession, the country’s apex court, the Constitutional Court reached a unanimous verdict. Upholding an earlier ruling by the Western Cape High Court, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo announced a major victory for dagga liberalisation.
“The right to privacy is not confined to a home or private dwelling. It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private space,” he said on Tuesday.
Parliament has been given time to produce new regulations regarding the details which could see many commercial opportunities surrounding the plant emerging from a 24 month consultation period.
The decision effectively moves dagga out of the realms of narcotics law and under the ambit of the liquor act.
Person falling foul of the law, (dealing in dagga is still a crime) could find themselves pleading a petty misdemeanor. With cannabis on par with alcohol it remains to be seen how the new system will work. Currently bakers and distillers of gin and beer require permits. Township shabeens are often the subject of raids against unlicensed liquor. (see greenlight districts)
The president has the power to grant amnesty to citizens who have found themselves on the wrong side of an apartheid-era prohibition regime that remained in place long past its sell-by-date, and despite the new democratic order. South Africa has been slow to follow the lead taken by the West and has lost out on trade.
Why the ruling party failed to accept the reality in this regard is the cause of much debate on the ground, where ordinary people have long relied on dagga as a cheaper and healthier alternative to alcohol. The NPA is still signalling that it wants to prosecute users and no doubt police will need to be retrained to avoid unnecessary complaints against the Minister of Justice.
Where South Africa was quick to jettison the apartheid regime and its emphasis on morality alongside prohibitions on the possession of pornography, the ANC state dilly daddled on dagga, perhaps out of fear for the strong Christian lobby in the country’s rural heartland.
The decision is a significant blow to religious and narcotics police posing as moralists and bolsters the secular state and its separation of powers that uphold the rights of the individual.
Although dagga use was prevalent amongst members of the anti-apartheid movement, both inside and outside the country, representatives in parliament (bar the IFP) have tendered to pass the buck while looking the other way.
Despite the, harm reduction ironically, remains the position of the African Union and our nation’s representative in the AU
DEAR older generation. You were wrong about apartheid, you were wrong about same-sex marriage, and you were wrong about dagga. When the Western Cape High Court affirmed the rights of all citizens to the use and cultivation of dagga in the privacy of our own homes, thus suspending the drug laws for two years and allowing Parliament to amend the legislation, it corrected an historical wrong committed by the past regime.
The first law prohibiting the sale of dagga was put in motion by the colonial authorities in 1910.
Following racist campaigns against the plant in America by William Randolf Hearst, who believed the use of dagga resulted in fraternisation between the races, in particular the scourge of white women consorting with black men, the world saw the roll-out of laws aimed at limiting dagga use. South Africa thus became a signatory to various international conventions, each one reducing the scope of the plant’s use, until the final scheduling of the plant alongside Heroin and other hard drugs.
Dagga use was thus synonymous with the counter-culture surrounding the anti-apartheid movement, in turn the apartheid state pilloried activists as mere ‘drug-users’ wanting to create mayhem to overthrow the state. Law and order was thus contingent upon the banning of people’s consciousness and our innate rights to freedom of thought. Alongside the Botha government’s Bureau of State Security (BOSS), the narc squad and thought police, armed with an ideology supplied by the NGK, which had decreed race segregation to be divinely inspired by God and the Afrikaner grip over the African hinterland to be the result of a “Covenant at Blood River”.
When the ANC finally came into power, there was every indication that dagga-smoking revolutionaries were going to legalise the herb whilst recognising the contribution to the struggle by the Jamaican Defense Force. Instead, activists like Trevor Manual exchanged their berets, dashikis and the proverbial stash, for bespoke suits, champagne and cognac. The transformation of the liberation movement into a political bureaucracy built upon corporate largesse meant that adopting the white man’s laws alongside those UN conventions supporting prohibition was now paramount.
All of this toenadering came tumbling down this week, as the Zuma administration revealed itself to be nothing more than a personal fiefdom without the support of the party, and as the President fired half his cabinet, retaining the controversial Bathabile Dlamini, the burial of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada turned into a platform for criticism, then private dagga use was suddenly given the greenlight.
It was thus a momentous moment on Friday which saw the supporters of the Dagga Party and Gareth Prince, celebrating outside the High court. The ruling by three judges overtook political events and removed the wind from of the sails of those kind souls hoping that a parallel legislative process surrounding the use of medical marijuana would finally lead to a new regulatory environment, albeit over the slow pace of the coming decades.
The Medical Innovations Act, whose regulations are still being discussed, certainly opens the door, moving the plant from the domain of criminal law to that of public health, but the decision of the Western Cape High Court meant that constitutional considerations and private use, in particular harm reduction, will be paramount. It is merely a formality that the decision will be confirmed by the ConCourt. The ruling does not allow for the sale of the plant and only affects private use.
WELL-known media personality, Dennis Beckett is in favour of the relaxation of drug legislation, in particular, the legalisation of dagga. “I can’t see where the moral is,” said Beckett, on late night with Kgomotso on SABC2 (Saturday), “If I can get drunk on alcohol, why can’t cannabis users get wasted?” The comments came after Kgomotso screened rare footage of Beckett’s Trek, in which Beckett was handed a joint and proceeded to get “ire” with a bunch of rastas. The irreverent journalist is in good company, as the premier of Mpumalanga Thabang Makwetla also favours legalisation and indicated as much at a recent tourism summit. We can only hope Beckett’s words are not taken out of context, since he cautioned against substance abuse and did not see the need to use weed for any purpose other than recreation.