How legal is dagga really? What you should know before you light that joint

Don't light up that joint just yet.

NEWCASTLE – The idea of legalising dagga must surely have some South Africans jumping for joy.

But before advocating prevalent use, there are some facts Newcastillians should know before lighting up that joint.

The application to legalise dagga in South Africa came from pro-dagga parties, lobbyists and activist Gareth Prince, who allegedly want dagga users to have the same rights as alcohol and tobacco users.

However, SAPS Acting National Commissioner, Lieutenant General J.K. Phahlane pointed out that the Western Cape Division of the High Court made certain decisions pertaining to the constitutionality and validity of the Drugs and Drug Trafficing Act No. 140 of 1992 and the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act No. 101 of 1965 to the extent that it prohibits the use of cannabis by an adult in a private dwelling where the possession or purchase and cultivation of cannabis is for personal use.

“The declaration made by the High Court was suspended for a period of 24 months from the date of the judgement in order for Parliament to correct the defects as set out in the judgement,” he said.

Member of provincial parliament and KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson for the Department of Health, Doctor Imran Keeka said the Western Cape High court made a ruling, opening the doors for a legal and bureaucratic process to follow.

“This will lead to the matter eventually being put before parliament yet again. The final decision will include mechanisms to make dagga available for medicinal use as determined by regulations which will be implemented by the Medicines Control Council or the new regulatory body that will be formed,” said Dr Keeka.

Dr Keeka said medicinal marijuana, if used according to the pharmacopoeia exclusively by trained practitioners, would be beneficial

He added there were studies which proved that cannabidiols extracted from dagga had various medicinal applications.

“While these are not large studies, they cannot be ignored, and I have no doubt several more will follow.”

When asked how the legalisation of dagga would benefit or affect our country, Dr Keeka replied there were several ideas theorised from examples in other countries where the herb had been legalised. This would include job creation in the agricultural sector which would cultivate this product for commercial use.

This could extend into paper making for example, to the medicinal harvesting of varieties high in the medicinal cannabidiol (CBD) component. The greater economic effects would only be possible if larger scale planting was allowed unlike the current court ruling, he continued.

“So while we talk about these things, there is no road map until all formal and legal processes are complete. We can remain discussing issues around the harms and benefits, but all of this will be moot if lawmakers decide otherwise,” he said.

Dr Keeka said recreational use of dagga was ill-advised for reasons already known, and it was addictive and an intoxicant when used incorrectly and mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

“This severally harms to the body, mind, families and communities. It is for this reason that I am personally only in support of it being placed exclusively in the hands of professionals, trained in using the herb and its extracts entirely for healthcare purposes. We must understand that it is not a silver bullet for cancer and several other conditions, as is being touted, and people who are currently illegally obtaining and using products in lieu of proper medical care are placing themselves at great risk and in harm’s way,” he said.

What does this mean for Newcastillians?

Currently, the use of cannabis is still considered illegal, and possession thereof is punishable.

Anyone found in possession of dagga or any other drugs, obstructs or fails to cooperate with a police investigation into a drug-related offence, will be liable to imprisonment for no longer than 12 months, or will be ordered to pay a fine. In some cases the perpetrator could receive a fine as well as imprisonment.

Lt Gen Phahlane said the court made an interim order regarding a deemed defence in such matters, pending the proposed amendment of the legislation, but should the matter be appealed, the interim relief is not enforceable.

“The judgement, before it can become effective, must in any event still be considered and confirmed by the Constitutional Court.”

He advised all relevant Government Departments had decided to appeal the legalisation of cannabis.

“Until further notice, the enforcement of relevant legislation must continue without any change.”

Zianne Leibrandt

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