Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke want dagga to be legalised. File picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus
Pretoria – The legal bid by South Africa’s so-called dagga couple – Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs – to have dagga legalised in the country, will finally kick off at the end of July after a battle of more than six years.

The couple have been trying for six years to get all documents and expert evidence in order. But yesterday Clarke told the Pretoria News that the “trial of the plant” was ready to go ahead after Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba stepped in.

Judge Ledwaba set down time frames for the submission of the various documents filed in their application.

The pungent green plant, said to have many medicinal benefits, will be the focus of the court’s attention for 19 days, as the case had been set down until August 25.

Clarke said this time frame could be reduced if the government, in the meantime, acknowledged the medical advantages of cannabis, known as dagga locally.

Clarke and Stobbs will pull out all the stops to prove their point and have expressed confidence that they had a good case.

They have evidence from a host of local and international experts, who would present opinions on their behalf, and the submitted experts' summaries run into more than 3 000 pages already.

The couple are now waiting for the government to advise them, by the end of March, how many experts it will be calling. Clarke said thus far they only knew of Dr David Bayever, of the Central Drug Authority, and Professor Shabir Banoo, of the Medicines Control Council.

“The trial of the plant is finally within our grasp,” Clarke said. The couple launched their application as far back as 2011, attacking local laws relating to the possession and use of cannabis, which they say are outdated, unconstitutional and irrational.

They are asking that the government legalise the use of this plant among consenting adults.

The pair turned to court after they were charged in the lower court over the use of dagga. They said they had been using the plant for decades and that as upstanding, taxpaying citizens, it was their right to do so.

By comparing legislative developments, the prohibition of cannabis could no longer be justified in South Africa, they argued.

The criminal trial against them has been on hold for more than six years, pending the outcome of this challenge. Similarly, Clarke said, the trials of abut 40 other cannabis users were also on hold.

The aim in their legal challenge was to educate the public and the authorities about the use of dagga, to prove that it was not harmful, they said.

Clarke, who is in her late 40s and Stobbs, in his 50s, are both freelance art directors who live on a smallholding near Lanseria where they were arrested by police during a traumatic raid for cannabis.

One of the experts, whose opinion will be presented to court, is Professor Donald Abrams, chief of the Haematology-Oncology Division at San Francisco General Hospital.

He has recommended cannabis or its derivatives to patients for a variety of ailments for many decades. Abrams, among others, is of the opinion that cannabis has been proven to assist in the management of painful HIV-associated ailments. The use of cannabis has also been shown to reduce pain, including but not limited to the pain caused by diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

In cancer patients, it is said to reduce nausea and vomiting, it stimulates appetite and reduces pain.

The government is adamant that legislation prohibiting the use and possession of cannabis should not go up in smoke – these laws protect people against the use of this “addictive drug”. The couple will argue that the State has no business regulating what an individual does, but the government said it is, as “the use and possession of cannabis is harmful to the health and social well-being of the public”.

Pretoria News