File picture: Ted S. Warren/AP Photo.

PORT ELIZABETH - The Consitutional Court's (ConCourt's) ruling legalising the private use of marijuana in South Africa has raised the debate on the social consequences for citizens and the country as a whole.

Some academics are asking how the country with its socio-economic challenges will cope with access to the herb opening up, whether it be for medicinal, spiritual or recreational use. 

In South Africa, dagga is legal for private use but the debate on regulation, the extent of state control and limitations on the right to privacy are burning issues. 

At the end of the day the use of dagga is a personal choice. What prevails are conflicting narratives, divided opinions on its benefits and an inherent prejudice associated with a plant that has been used for more than 4 000 years. 

The controversial issues involving the decriminalisation of dagga and the legislation shift were discussed at a dialogue session hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) at Nelson Mandela University under the moderation of Professor Jonathan Jansen. 

The ConCourt gave Parliament 24 months to update legislation on marijuana to be in line with its ruling. 

The nitty-gritty of the yet to be decided guidelines will affect smokers and non-smokers so public discourse is essential. 

The use of dagga, commonly used for its THC content, a psycho active ingredient which results in a high or calm down, is believed by some to be beneficial medicinally and spiritually while others see it as a degenerative health risk. 

Some will tell you that dagga is bad for you. Specialist psychiatrist, Dr Abdul Kader Domingo says that when a person is exposed to cannabis it causes a disruption of brain development as the brain still develops until the age of 25. 

Domingo was discussing the negative consequences. He says that early and regular use of dagga increases the risk of primary psychotic illness and if it is used regularly in youthful years it affects attention, memory, cognition and intelligence. 

Domingo argues that while the herb may be organic it is associated with potential harm and risk factors cannot be dismissed. But not everybody agrees and others argue that dagga assists with pain and nausea for patients who are exposed to life threatening illnesses such as cancer or HIV. 

Academics say moderate evidence indicates that dagga is useful for some medical conditions. Social Anthropology associate  professor, Fraser McNiell, questions how various evidence-based studies on dagga are perceived. 

"The ways in which people can manipulate scientific ideas, we need to be very careful when we talk about having this evidence. 

"Whose evidence is taken more legitimately than others, where is the centre of gravity here and why is it going in one specific direction? And that speaks directly to the stigmatisation of cannabis use."

Local family attorney Jo-Ann Anthony said that the use of dagga resulting in aggression could cause breakdowns within families. 

McNiell strongly disagreed that one substance should be used as a scapegoat, adding that breakdowns within family structures were also caused, among others, by economic inequality across the country. 

Dr Ruby-Ann Levendal said with dagga being legalised in many countries across the world it was possible to learn from its socio-economic impacts in terms of criminality, wellness in other environments. 

"In terms of what it has done with criminality, what it has done in terms of psychiatric illness, we know that it creates a lot of jobs. But in terms of wellness generally or not? 

"Has criminality increased. Some of the panelists said that it might have detrimental effects but surely we need to look at it holistically, looking at legalisation elsewhere, can't we learn from that?

"In terms of data collected, do a proper analysis and see how that can possibly inform us of what to expect?" Levendal said.

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African News Agency (ANA)