Johannesburg - Three hundred “criminals” whom police have caught in possession of dagga are in legal limbo as they wait for the high court in Pretoria to determine the legality of the drug.
Included in the 300 are members of South Africa's largest alleged dagga cartel who the Hawks claimed have produced more than a ton of marijuana on farms scattered across Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town.
The cartel’s alleged cannabis empire at its height had six hydroponic labs.
They, and others are awaiting the outcome of the high court’s ruling on the attempt by Myrtle Clarke and her partner Julian Stobbs, the so-called Dagga Couple, to have the drug legalised.
The dagga cartel was allegedly run by the Brass family, and its lawyer SW van der Merwe has applied at the high court in Pretoria for a stay of prosecution.
He said he would argue that the court should refrain from prosecuting the family until they can launch their own Constitutional Court action to remove the ban on dagga, or at the very least until the ruling in the Clarke and Stobbs’ case has been finalised, even if the couple’s case goes to the land's apex court.
He said the family wished to join the other court challenges currently being heard in Cape Town.
Patrick Brass and his three sons, Jared, Wade and Justin initially rented out the Bona Manzi farm on the border of the North West to begin their operation, reportedly just 10km away from the nearest police station.
In 2015, the Hawks revealed they had seized R150 million in equipment and dagga, and the State’s new indictments suggest that more than 1000 kilos of dried cannabis were seized during the police operation.
Three years later, the money laundering, drug dealing and racketeering trial against the 15 accused has yet to begin at the high court in Joburg.
Clarke said the couple had been working with the Brass family since their arrests in 2014 and were supportive of their stay of prosecution application.
According to Clarke, the couple’s non-profit organisation, Join The Queue campaign, has already assisted 47 others who succeeded to stay their own dagga-related criminal cases. The couple is sitting with another 300 such applications as part of the campaign.
She said that while it may not be the fastest route to get away from a dagga-related criminal charge, it's the best way to avoid having a criminal record until the legislation surrounding dagga has been confirmed.
The Brass family’s stay of prosecution application is set for October 3, though it's unclear if the court would allow the case to stand down for what could be a years-long process.
This week, two of the Brass family’s alleged dagga cultivators, Mathews Toachem Sadik and Abel Joakin Sadik, separated their case from their 13 co-accused after reaching a plea deal with the State.