High Court Reporter

LEGISLATION prohibiting the use and possession of dagga should not go up in smoke, as these laws protect people against the use of this addictive drug.

This is the argument by the government in opposing an application by a dagga-smoking couple.

The pair are challenging legislation which criminalises the use and possession of dagga, or cannabis as some prefer to call it.

Freelance art directors Julian Stobbs, 52, and his partner Myrtle Clarke, 45, are of the opinion that the laws regulating the use of this plant are outdated.

They will ask the Pretoria High Court to remove cannabis from the list of banned substances in terms of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act.

The government should also legalise the use of this plant among consenting adults, they argue.

The couple face charges in the lower court relating to the use of dagga, which they have been using for the past 20 to 30 years. The high court earlier placed their criminal trial on hold, pending the outcome of their constitutional challenge.

Their lawyer, Ferdinand Hartzenberg, yesterday told the Pretoria News that they will ask the court to put all dagga-related trials of consenting adults on hold for two years.

This was to enable the government to pass appropriate legislation to regulate the cultivation, processing, distribution, sale, possession and use of cannabis.

Hartzenberg said the matter is, however, only expected to come before court early in 2014. This was so that various stakeholders who have an interest in alternative healing methods, such as traditional healers, could give their input. They will also obtain reports from experts regarding the medicinal value of cannabis.

The couple, in papers filed at court, said they were upstanding and taxpaying citizens and it was their right to use dagga without fear of being arrested.

They say they launched this application not only to protect their own interests, but also those of other dagga-smoking South Africans.

“Many law abiding people use cannabis regularly for a range of reasons relating to health, religion, culture and merely as a relaxant,” they stated in court papers.

The drug laws relating to the use of dagga, which “punish individuals for a victimless offence”, degrades cannabis users in the broader society, who see them as being criminals, the couple said.

Cannabis users should no longer fear the long arm of the law when they want to take a puff, they said.

When the use of cannabis affects only the user and nobody else, the State has no business in regulating what an individual does, they argue.

But the government said this is very much its business, as the possession and use of dagga is illegal.

In papers filed in opposition to the couple’s application, it was stated on behalf of the National Director of Public Prosecutions and six ministers, including health and police, that the Constitutional Court in 2002 dismissed a similar challenge to these laws.

The government stood its ground that “the use and possession of cannabis is harmful to the health and social well-being of the public” and that cannabis was a drug which “negatively affected the psychological well-being” of those who use it.

The use of cannabis by the couple and others was outweighed by the risks attached to this drug. There was also a substantial illicit dagga trade in the country and abroad, which law enforcement agents had to combat.