Lawyer Gareth Prince
Lawyer Gareth Prince

#Dagga ban goes up in smoke - and so do some cases

By Noloyiso Mtembu Time of article published Apr 1, 2017

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Cape Town - In a cheery ending to an otherwise bleak week - for dagga aficionados - users of the intoxicating plant may now legally grow and consume it in the privacy of their homes, without fear of arrest.

In other words, it’s okay to get high on your own supply.

And anyone who has been arrested for using dagga will have their cases stayed until the laws governing the use and ownership of dagga have been brought in line with the constitution, the Western Cape High Court has ruled.

Rastafarian lawyer Gareth Prince, the Dagga Party and several others brought the issue before the court arguing that dagga should not be a prohibited substance listed in the Drugs and Trafficking Act.

The court found laws which prohibit the possession, cultivation, transportation and distribution of cannabis are “inconsistent with the constitution and invalid”.

Judge Dennis Davis, handing down the full bench judgment, said Parliament had 24 months to bring the laws in line with with the constitution.

“In the interim period, it is necessary to provide that prosecutions that fall within legal provision declared to be unconstitutional should be stayed,” the judge said.

Prince said he felt vindicated by the judgment. He said for many years cannabis users had been treated like criminals but now they would be able to be part of the economy.

“This is victory. We are elated.

“This judgment is also good for the police because it means less work for them and more time to focus on real crime,” Prince said.

He was denied admission to the Cape Bar as an attorney as he had been convicted for dagga possession from 1989 and he refused to offer an apology for his conviction.

In 1989 he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to a R60 fine when he was a law student at the University of the Western Cape.

He paid the fine and had thought that was the end of it, until the Bar refused him admission.

He said his use of dagga was part of his religious beliefs as a Rastafarian. His application to the Constitutional Court to have dagga decriminalised for religious purposes was unsuccessful.

He subsequently became a community legal adviser. In 2012 he was arrested again - for growing dagga in his garden.

The Dagga Party’s Jeremy Acton said the judgment was a step in the right direction as it promoted adherence to the constitution in relation to the right to privacy.

Philip Rosenthal of the Christian View Network said they condemned the judgment.

“Dagga is scientifically proven to be addictive, to drastically reduce intelligence and increase road accidents.

“Sociologically, it is a gateway to other drugs, increases violence, dropping out of school and harms work productivity,” Rosenthal said.

He added: “The decision harms unborn babies, road accident victims, victims of violence and employers who don’t choose to smoke it.”

Jules Stobbs of the Dagga Couple said the judgment spoke for all who had been victimised by the police. He said every day the police invaded at least 600 people’s privacy and arrested them for possession of cannabis.

“This judgment will enable me to tell the police to f*** off when they come knocking on my door,” he said.

Charl Henning of Fields of Green for All said the judgment allowed for recreational use of cannabis by adults. “There are three other areas that still need to change - medicinal use, traditional use and industrial use,” Henning said.

According to the Medicines Control Council (MCC), which made submissions to the court on the matter, cannabis is classified as a Schedule 7 substance in South Africa, making it subject to special restrictions and controls.

Dr Jim Gouws of the MCC said in court papers that cannabis affected driving ability as it reduced cognitive skills, and affected respiratory and cardiovascular functions.

He told the court cannabis was a hallucinogen which causes extreme relaxation or hyper activeness, depending on the user.

“The official position of the government, as expressed by the Department of Health, is thus to regulate the use of cannabis in order to prevent its illicit use and its potentially harmful effects,” the MCC said.

Weekend Argus

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