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
THE arrest of a Paris Hilton over the weekend for alleged possession of dagga, has focused world attention on South Africa’s outdated and petty anti-marijuana laws. For starters, the crime is a misdemeanor, the result of the ruling parties inability to deal with calls to end drug prohibition and the legacy of apartheid. It is also a failure of successive ANC administrations to implement the cognitive rights and liberties guaranteed by our constitution.
Consumption of dagga, zol, boom, mary jane, weed was always a factor at Mass Democratic Movement rallies. The intoxicating fumes of cannabis infused meetings held by the United Democratic Front and End Conscription Campaign. It was the staple ice-breaker when alcohol was difficult to come by and informed the lives of so many struggle activists, from Trevor Manual to Walter Sisulu himself.
Veteran journalist Dennis Becket recently confessed to smoking the herb, while the province of Mpumalanga gave a presentation on the benefits which might be gained from creating an industry based upon cannabis and hemp production.
The policy of the present government has been hypocritical at best. While officially South Africa supports prohibition, there is a mixed message which goes out to its citizens. Foreigners like Jennifer Rovero who on Saturday admitted the dagga cigarette being smoked by Paris Hilton belonged to her, are treated with disdain. Rovera was slapped with a R1000 fine or 30 days in jail and faces deportation.
In 1994 the ANC was elected on a broad social platform that included reform of the country’s repressive drug legislation. Within the space of a few short years, issues such as legalisation and decriminalisation were swept away under pressure from the World Bank and the USA which attached drug prohibition requirements to financial loans and market guarantees..The public debate on ending prohibition, such as instituting harm reduction strategies and taxation ended with securocrats at the United Nations.
Yet South Africa stands alongside the Czech Republic, Mexico, Portugal and Spain as a place where the law tends to favour tolerance of small amounts of what is essentially a natural substance, a plant if you will. Surely now is the time to gain clarity on whether our nations policies are one of decriminalization or legalisation? Should dagga be decriminalised for medical purposes? What about the vast body of evidence which suggests the plant assists in the relief of pain and can even cure cancer?
A proposal to put the legalization of marijuana in California to a vote this November for instance is causing some growers of the plant in the state to worry about a sharp drop in the value of their crop if the measure succeeds..
If it is okay for Paris Hilton to toke on a joint, but not okay for Rovera to flash a cannabis cigarette around in Port Elizabeth, where is the justice system and our shared values? Surely Rovera was merely sampling the local brew and partaking in a South African tradition which is at least 20 000 years old. The Khoisan word for marijuana, “dagga” and our idiosyncratic use of the term, is not just another example of linguistic differences down South, but a word which reveals something special and innate about ourselves.