High Time- D Day 420 party puts legalisation back on the agenda

2015-04-26 16:30

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Last weekend, thousands of partygoers and dagga growers got together in Joburg to puff and pass, and call for the legalisation of marijuana.

Garreth van Niekerk and Binwe Adebayo were there.

A small, graffitied alleyway in downtown Joburg became a place to puff and pass in peace for the more than 3?000 people who came together to celebrate 420 – international marijuana appreciation day (named after a famous plot of dagga in America or the time in the afternoon when dagga is smoked). Here, it’s “D-Day”.

For those concerned citizens wondering where an event of such diabolical inclinations could end up, they would need only to look at the first act on the line-up – an emerging indie group called Satanic Dagga Orgy. If they had stayed and listened to them, though, they would have heard the kind of happy-go-lucky music you hear at the end of a perfectly delightful romantic comedy.

The crowd at Carfax in Newtown last weekend was one of the most diverse we’ve seen – from the angry 20-something stoner quoting V for Vendetta to the more conservative user smoking long, elegant joints, signalling years of practice. Similar sights could be witnessed worldwide. Joburg was one of 164 cities celebrating 420 (pronounced “four-twenty”) with a street party celebrating peak harvest time and what is known by the community as “stoner Christmas”.

Moving unusually slowly between reggae bands and tie-dye clothing stalls, supporters gathered to share ideas and experiences and confront the conflicts around being an open or secret weed user.

The Dagga Couple

The event was hosted by Fields of Green for All (FGA), a not-for-profit organisation started by Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, dubbed the Dagga Couple by the media.

They became the public face of legalisation after they were bust in their home and accused of dealing when the police found 105g of dagga in their possession.

FGA was set up, they say, to counter the harmful effects of criminalising cannabis. “Being arrested for dagga in South Africa can be brutal and traumatising and poses much more of a risk to a dagga user than the plant itself does,” they told City Press.

Working with the Dagga Party, they have taken their cause to the Constitutional Court and the case is scheduled to be heard next year. They have formed a legal advocacy group to assist any citizen who has been arrested and charged under South Africa’s cannabis-prohibition laws.

The Green Network, a social portal on the FGA website, has professional members in the fields of medicine, health, law, engineering, the environment and horticulture.

The couple has helped create a network of scores of dagga growers, sellers and users countrywide. This growth of the movement was made evident when free starter packs of soil and seeds were distributed at the event.

The crowd was spellbound by the Dagga Couple’s speech. Cheering and raised fists were the order of the day as the pair spoke passionately against the “outdated colonial hegemony”, which they believed was the bedrock of South Africa’s anti-marijuana laws.

‘Reefer madness’

“South Africa was the first country to outlaw dagga in the late 19th century,” Stobbs and Clarke tell us. “Christians didn’t like their Hindu slaves using it in KwaZulu-Natal’s sugar cane fields.”

Repressive morality is a key theme at D-Day, with South Africa’s aggressive response to marijuana use under discussion. From the idea that it demonically possessed black and Indian indentured labourers (slaves), to the belief that it encouraged white women to sleep with “negroes”, so-called reefer madness has gripped the country since the 1800s, say critics.

In 1923, South Africa implored the League of Nations to criminalise the drug internationally, sparking a chain reaction globally.

“We need a groundswell of public support to change the law,” Stobbs and Clarke say. “We estimate two-thirds of South Africans either use the plant or understand the harms prohibition inflicts on our human rights. What is needed is a national, coordinated referendum.”

But is legalisation a real possibility? At the two-day Medical Marijuana Conference held earlier this month, there was a discussion about the medicinal use of cannabis and the parliamentary process surrounding its potential legalisation. The conference followed the introduction of the Medical Innovation Bill in Parliament by the late Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who was an open advocate of the use of cannabis, which he was using to treat the effects of his cancer.

Grow-ops

Advocacy, for the Dagga Couple, must start at home. “The thing we need, of course, is for South Africans to ‘come out’ about their cannabis use.”

At D-Day, police guarded the entrances but remained out of sight as hundreds of joints were passed around when the clock struck 4.20pm and everyone lit up. There was a sense of anarchy in the air as revellers passed joints to their left – the stoner way. We had never witnessed anything quite so orderly at a street party.

Along with the appeals to join the “green movement”, events like these act as a way to connect with suburban “grow-ops” – an underground network of growers who work together to meet the needs of users. These operations then find ways to put the money generated from their efforts back into the community. Rumours abound of parks being refurbished, school buses being donated and poorer pupils being put through school with the illegal funds.

Leaving the party in the early hours of the next morning, there were no fights or muggings.

Everyone was, as they say, “irie”.

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