To make marijuana or dagga against the law “is like saying God made a mistake”.
It is in this spirit that a highly anticipated court case later this month will revisit a 1928 South African law against cannabis – with the aim of legalising the plant for various uses, including medicinal, industrial and recreational purposes.
The case – titled “The trial of the plant” – will be heard on July 31 and was launched by Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs, also known as the “Dagga Couple”.
It challenges cannabis being classified as an illegal substance under the South African Drug and Drugs Trafficking Act.
The Act lists marijuana as an “undersirable dependence producing substance”. Clarke pointed to 1 000 arrests a day, many of these young people.
“The new South African government has never revisited these laws. And if people are arrested and convicted on a cannabis charge, they get a criminal record, which stands for 10 years even if they pay an admission of guilt fine,” she said.
“Especially for our young people, it can prevent you from getting a job and travelling. Who is the victim of this so-called crime of people using the cannabis plant for over 700 years?
“It has never been scientifically proven that the laws are right. And it’s never been tested under the new constitution.”
The Dagga Couple’s nonprofit organisation, Fields of Green for All, has attracted donations to fund the case, she added. This included a number of experts, both local and abroad, who will testify on the positive uses of marijuana.
“We are optimistic of the outcome. It’s been an expensive exercise for us and we know that our experts have been at the forefront of cannabis legalisation worldwide. They have the requisite expertise, knowledge and have done the scientific research to back us up.
“And because South Africa is such a unique situation we have local experts who have been with us for seven years, building this case. We have an amazing legal team and one of the main reasons we are so confident is because our legal team are really young. They have a new, fresh approach to the subject whereas our opposition in the government do not have a young, dynamic legal team.”
Clarke said government as defendants have to substantiate the law, while observers from Uruguay – the only country to have fully legalised marijuana – watch the proceedings. The case also seeks to ensure the law refrains from altering the sale of dagga in South Africa, as it is presently done.
“When it comes to regulation, it is very important that existing cannabis economy in the country is legitimised before any new system is imposed on a person. I am speaking about the gogo in the Eastern Cape who sells from her small patch of dagga.
“If you don’t recognise that there is already organised, very efficient, long-standing systems that are there… And that is the main reason why we are totally against the issuing of any licences for cannabis cultivation or trade.
“When we are in the legislature to put our proposals for it, we have to make it clear there is no new system required,” she said, adding that only big producers of the plant pay tax.
“We hope the SA Revenue Service comes back to its former glory and supports us on this.” William Wallace, who is also an advocater of cannabis legalisation, added that “in a nutshell”, South Africans were in an entrenched culture of anti-dagga.
“But when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, everyone has got a brother, a sister or a friend who smokes. But as cannabis is gaining more exposure now, you can’t turn on a TV show that doesn’t have a marijuana reference.
“Historically, we have been a minority culture but … in the court of public opinion, the argument for legalisation almost seems one, as we become a majority culture.”
Wallace added that government’s approach to legalisation was more reactive than proactive.
“Government needs to drop the arrogance and say: ‘Yes, we get what you’re saying. Let’s at least try the middle ground’.” – firstname.lastname@example.org