Our political landscape is a turbulent scene. From tenders to toilets, South Africa is well known for the moral failings of many of its elected leaders, both past and present. However, there are glimmers of hope. Maybe it’s just my Capetonian roots, or the fact that she doesn’t give us the finger when adjusting her glasses, but Helen Zille has always struck me as a reasoned and critical thinker with all the right credentials. So with a fistful of hope and my left over money from dope, I wrote her a letter, paid for the registered postage and sent it on its merry way.
Whether we get an actual response remains to be seen. My gut tells me that it will have more to do with you than me. So send your own letters or e-mails, tweet @hellenzille or simply pass my letter to the left… Whatever. Have your say and lets get the conversation out there.
There’s something wrong with the world today. In our little slice of Africa, huge amounts of our resources and money are being spent to uphold a questionable law… I write to you in the hope that, as a reasoned and enlightened leader, you will share your opinion on the matter.
The prohibition of Cannabis is a long-standing moral wishing-well; one built on racist and emotive beliefs. Consider, for example, the following statement by Harry J. Anlsinger, the man who spearheaded the prohibition of cannabis: “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.” Those who ruled our country during the early 20th century set a similar standard by making South Africa the first country in the world to make cannabis use illegal. And for pretty much the same reasons as ol’ Harry above; certainly not one of our proudest pioneer moments.
For a century this policy has gone unquestioned and remained without critical examination. It has received little more than talk of how to throw more hard-earned money down the prohibition wishing-well. There’s no denying that popular prophecies regarding cannabis have come true: It certainly is a gateway drug when you’re forced to get it from a drug dealer. It is associated with crime simply by being illegal. Furthermore, there will always be those who are unable to tolerate too much of a good thing. And although cannabis may be disagreeable to the anomalous individual, at least it won’t kill them.
There is no denying that addiction can be bad. That’s a fact of life. Whether you get your fix off the shelf at the local supermarket, or in a big brown paper bag at the drive-thru, go under a cosmetic surgeon’s blade, or grab a six pack on the way home. We tend to do what makes us happy, even if there’s a risk attached. Some risks are tiny, whilst others can have life-changing consequences, such as unprotected sex. All of the above examples are potentially lethal, but we don’t arrest people for doing them.
I’ve done my homework, from the local drug master plan and cannabis history through to medical cannabis and hemp. If one considers, firstly, the fact that cannabis is one of the world’s most versatile and renewable natural resources, and secondly, the decades of scientific research that document its use; it seems that the statistics are overwhelmingly in cannabis’ corner. Even when used in its crudest form (aka. joint), it is a non-lethal low-harm substance that is not physically addictive. The same cannot be said for many of its legal counterparts. I’ll concede that it could be psychologically addictive, but that’s what happens when something makes you happy. Pretty much like chocolate or caffeine. Right now, we hold none of the cards. We do not control who gets cannabis or how they get it. We do not control the quality or trade of cannabis. We don’t legally use or tax what is an infamously large local (and international) industry. We just keep tossing cash into the wishing well. The cost of one year’s imprisonment for a cannabis user is the equivalent of at least: 2 RDP houses or 13 jobs for a year or 2,500 text books. I just don’t understand it, Helen. Most of us have a friend or loved one who does not deserve to have their future crippled by being branded a criminal for the sake of this hypocritical law.
Therefore, as a leader who is well-respected for being rational, reasonable and enlightened, I would like to pose the following question to you:
Should the use of cannabis amongst consensual adults really constitute a criminal act, considering that the substance is categorically safer than just about all of its legal counterparts?
P.S. This is a public letter that I will be sharing wherever I can online and I hope to receive a response that I can share with the millions of South Africans who consider the topic relevant and pressing. The people with a valuable vote to spare.
What the studies say:
“There is definite evidence in this study that the marihuana users were not inferior in intelligence to the general population and that they had suffered no mental or physical deterioration as a result of their use of the drug.” – The La Guardia Committee Report, 1944
“The Commission feels that the criminalization of possession of marihuana for personal is socially self-defeating as a means of achieving this objective.” – Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding, The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, 1972
“Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis” – Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, 2011
- Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis, 2010
“In sum, there is little evidence that decriminalization of marijuana use necessarily leads to a substantial increase in marijuana use.” – National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, 1999
“The evidence is accumulating … that liberalization does not increase cannabis use [and] that the total prohibition approach is costly [and] ineffective as a general deterrent.” – Cannabis, the Law and Social Impacts in Australia, 1995
“It has been demonstrated that the more or less free sale of [marijuana] for personal use in the Netherlands has not given rise to levels of use significantly higher than in countries which pursue a highly repressive policy.” – Drugs: Policy in the Netherlands: Continuity and Change. 1995.
“Making people criminals for taking psychoactive substances is in itself criminal, for one is dealing with, at worst, a vice but not a crime.” – JP van Niekerk, Managing Editor – South African Medical Journal
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