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.
Then when the apex court of our country, the Constitutional Court, affirmed the High Court ruling and extended these protections, it read parts of the decision into law, granted dagga users the right to carry the herb without fear of arrest and opened the door for the ‘dagga economy’ surrounding the herb.
Thus cannabis (or dagga as it is known in South Africa) was moved from the realms of the narcotics act into the ambit of the liquor licensing regime. Our Parliament is still debating exactly how to go about regulating certains aspects to do with the medicinal and commercial use of the herb, and the sale and commercial exploitation of the plant remains a grey area so far as the law is concerned.
It was thus that a groundbreaking High Court decision this month resulted in serious charges brought some time ago, against a dagga activist and DIY hydroponics expert, being squashed.
While the concourt decision was proscriptive rather than retroactive, the High Court clearly saw the social mores of the time as being more persuasive than the previous period of prohibition. More importantly the decision pronounced upon the role of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) in harrassing growers, and thus the proportionality of the ‘dagga crimes’ in a case which had not yet been proven by the state, and where the state attorney had in effect jumped the gun in seeking forfeiture of the residence of one Richard Kraak.
Several articles appearing in the mainstream online media have appeared to punt the commercial benefits of dagga. One article went so far as suggesting mechanisms for investors keen to get in on the action, and the benefit to the broader economy, while others extolled the virtues of the inaugral Cannabis Expo, an event currently being held in Jozi and set for Cape Town later next year.
How the mighty moral police and their religion-inspired vice squad have fallen upon tough times, one can only remark here that a similar sequence of events followed the legalisation of porn after the end of apartheid — the death throws of the regime in which women’s breasts and nipples were only to be seen behind the shiny stars covering them in men’s magazines.
Similar festivals around South Africa appeared to have gone by without a hitch, but expect more information on this topic. Police continue to terrorise the communities of Sedgefield and Knysna. Despite setbacks, Dagga synonymous with the counter-culture surrounding the anti-apartheid movement has certainly returned for good, as has the feel-good vibe which immediately followed our nation’s liberation.
Those old enough to remember the likes of James Phillips aka Benoldus Niemand, may recall that the apartheid state pilloried activists as mere ‘drug-users’ — cannabis hooked social deviants wanting to create mayhem to overthrow the state.
Law and order was thus contingent upon the banning of people’s consciousness — our innate rights to freedom of thought alongside the right to privacy. See Thembisa Waetjen’s excellent historical appraisal here.
Alongside the Botha government’s Bureau of State Security (BOSS), the narc squad and thought police, armed with an ideology supplied by the NGK, decreed race segregation to be divinely inspired by God, Cannabis to be the work of the Devil himself, and the Afrikaner grip over the African hinterland the result of a “Covenant at Blood River”.
How times are a changin.
When the ruling 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 Bob Marley and the Jamaican Defense Force.
Instead, activists like Trevor Manual exchanged their berets, dashikis and the proverbial stash, for bespoke suits, and the joys of fine 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 certain UN conventions supporting prohibition was paramount.
All of this toenadering came tumbling down this week, as yes, one Jacob Zuma appeared in the dock.