By Ben Maclennan

The SA Medical Journal has called for dagga to be legalised, and for government to set a framework for "controlled domestic trade" in the drug.

SAMJ editor Daniel Ncayiyana said in an editorial in the September edition of the journal that there was no rationale for banning dagga.

"South Africa should decriminalise dagga use, and legalise possession of small amounts for personal consumption," he said.

The journal is the official publication of the SA Medical Association.

Ncayiyana said the government should create a legal framework for the controlled domestic trade of dagga - though exports should not be permitted - regulated in much the same was as alcohol and tobacco products were now.

He said dagga in itself was not known to cause any specific disease in humans - not even permanent lung damage - and its ban could not be justified on medical grounds.

He said the British medical publication the Lancet recently observed that moderate indulgence in dagga had "little ill effect on health".

"Legislation will serve to pull the rug from under the (drug) dealers, free our justice system infrastructure to concentrate on tackling truly harmful drugs, assure religious freedom for Rastafarians, and bring some order to the production of dagga - an important sector of our rural economy," said Ncayiyana.

Ncayiyana, who is also principal of ML Sultan Technikon in Durban, was abroad on Friday and could not be reached for comment.

Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya said in June that the government had not given any thought to legalising dagga.

He said it might be "nice" to say South Africa was an advanced society.

"But we have to have our society, our people, with us when we make such decisions, and there has been no consultation," he said.

His statement followed renewed calls for the drug to be legalised, after members of the South African national cricket team admitted to smoking it in a hotel room while on tour in the West Indies.

In August, Jamaica became the latest in a string of countries moving towards a more liberal position when a government commission recommended the drug be legalised for personal use.

The National Commission on Ganja also said the use of marijuana for religious purposes should be permitted.

Police in South Africa say they seized last year around 500 tons of dagga, much of it grown in poverty-stricken areas designated as black "homelands" during apartheid rule. - Sapa