The ‘dagga couple’, Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, outside the High Court in Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Naude

The theory that cannabis is a gateway drug is nothing more than a scare tactic; if anything it may have protective properties, British psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt said yesterday.

It was the sixth day of the trial looking into the legalisation of marijuana in the high court in Pretoria. Nutt told the court that the theory of the substance being a gateway to harder drugs had been used repeatedly and unjustifiably.

He said: “The theory of it being a gateway simply states that if someone uses the drug, then they would easily move on to harder drugs. But there is no evidence to that effect. If anything, it is the social factor and prohibition of cannabis that becomes the gateway.”

Nutt said he believed having the drug regarded as illegal moved it to the black market and anyone looking for it would consequently become exposed to drug dealers peddling harder drugs.

This was because they wanted those coming to them to become hooked and as such would offer users samples with the cannabis.

The professor cited the Dutch model, which saw prosecution of cannabis users suspended and made the drug available in cafés, thus eliminating the chances of their youth coming into contact with drug dealers.

Dr Raquel Peyraube, a specialist in problematic use of drugs from Uruguay, said she was pleased that South Africa was taking the first steps in making a positive change to legislation governing cannabis.