Top court hears battle for use of dagga
Publish date: 13 November 2017
Issue Number: 751
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: South Africa
The state lined up against Rastafarians and other dagga users in the Constitutional Court last week when it heard an appeal against the Western Cape High Court ruling that the laws that banned the private use of dagga in a person's home were unconstitutional, ordering Parliament to revise laws governing the cultivation and private use of dagga within two years. A TimesLIVE report notes the case was brought by Rastafarian and lawyer Garreth Prince‚ Jeremy Acton, of the Dagga Party, and others‚ who also want police arrests to be declared unconstitutional. The state‚ including the Department of Trade and Industry‚ Department of Health‚ Department of Social Development and Department of International Relations‚ is appealing the decision. Advocate Thomas Bokaba explaining why the government believed it had a right to limit the use of dagga, said smoking dagga increased crime‚ affected the poor and vulnerable the most‚ and caused mental illness and psychosis. However, Bokaba was unable to answer repeated questions from Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga on how lawmakers could decide to allow alcohol which is harmful but ban dagga. Because Prince and Acton are both representing themselves‚ the court asked lawyer Ron Paschke to present evidence as an ‘intervening party’. Paschke pointed out even the state conceded in its case cannabis was less harmful that tobacco and about only 10% of users become dependent on dagga. Paschke said the state did not provide evidence that banning dagga actually helped mitigate its harms or reduce its use. He also argued that‚ ‘while a joint or two of cannabis cannot cause medical harm‚ arrests can cause immense harm’. ‘It can cost accused their job and their custody of their children.’
Prince told the court he just wanted the freedom to use marijuana without being victimised. ‘The harm that the criminal justice system has to a cannabis smoker is worse than a joint can ever inflict,’ he argued, according to a News24 report. Prince told the justices that the Rastafarian community was ‘small and marginalised and this court should give effect to our plight’. He said the order made by the High Court, regarding the private use of dagga, allowed users to be victimised. ‘The state allows you to drink yourself to death and smoke yourself to cancer. They should allow us to use dagga; equality demands it… it is not for government to determine what I eat or drink,’ Prince argued. He said he did not see how growing plants could be harmful. ‘Treat me the same as you treat alcohol drinkers or tobacco smokers,’ he pleaded. Meanwhile, Acton also argued that the order by the High Court did not allow him to integrate with society. This meant he could not use the drug at his friend's home. He could also not travel with it, he said.