Case builds for dagga decriminalisation

2013-02-18 13:00
Protesters smoke marijuana during a demonstration against new government legislation. (AFP)

Protesters smoke marijuana during a demonstration against new government legislation. (AFP)

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Cape Town - The case for the decriminalisation of dagga is building as an expert rejects the assumption that consumption of the drug is causally tied to psychosis.

Some have argued that a good reason to keep dagga, or marijuana as it is known in the US, a banned substance is that it leads to psychosis in those who consume it.

"Despite steady increases in marijuana use over the past several decades, there have been no such increases in diagnosed cases of schizophrenia or psychoses," Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver, Colorado told News24.

Tvert has co-authored Marijuana Is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? and argued that a correlation between dagga and mental health problems does not constitute a cause and effect relationship.

"Some studies on marijuana also find that there can be a correlation between marijuana use and mental health problems, but not a causal relationship. In other words, people with such problems might use marijuana, but it is not the cause of their problems."

Acceptance


In the US, two states - Washington State and Colorado - legalised personal marijuana use though possession is still prohibited under federal law.

Internationally, some countries, including Russia, Mexico and Portugal, permit possession of a small amount of dagga for personal use, while continuing to prosecute dealing and trafficking in the drug.

In Portugal particularly, a correlation between the country's drug policy and a reduction of adolescent use was observed from 2001 to 2007.

Public opinion in the US is also shifting to wider acceptance of dagga.

A Gallup poll in 2011 showed that those in the US who believe that dagga should be legal across the country has been on an increasing trend since 1970 when only 12% believed that it should be legal.

The latest numbers suggest that making the substance legal in the US would attract support of 50% of the population.

Several organisations, including the American Academy of HIV Medicine, American Civil Liberties Union and HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America have expressed support for medicinal use of dagga.

Controversial

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) showed the controversial finding that dagga use was not tied to a decline in IQ, refuting an earlier study.

According to the paper by Ole Røgeberg, factors related to socio-economic status had more to do with the decline in IQ than dagga use.

Some have argued that the benefits of dagga are largely due to the placebo effect - that the drug works because those who consume it want it to work for effects like pain relief, for example.

Tvert rejected this, saying that the benefits of marijuana were measurable.

"Clinical trials and extensive research have demonstrated that marijuana has a real and measurable impact on those who consume it to relieve chronic pain."

A South African expert cautiously supported the medicinal benefits of dagga.

"I believe we are past saying 'if' there are some medicinal benefits for marijuana. Yes, that would be the ideal to find other delivery mechanisms. But obviously these come with extra costs which need to be outweighed against the harms from smoking unfiltered (cheaper) marijuana," Professor Charles Parry, director of the Medical Research Council's Alcohol & Drug Abuse Research Unit told News24.


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