This weekend was a drug binge of note. It started with me getting my stomach pumped for a coffee overdose on Saturday morning and ended with me injecting a pack of Marlboro under my toenails just before work on Monday morning.
The definition of a “drug” is a very subjective matter. In South Africa the word “drug” itself is typically reserved for only illicit substances such as cocaine, heroin or marijuana (aka cannabis/dagga). We even tend to disassociate from the word when referring to medicinal drugs. Unlike our American counterparts, we don’t refer to a pharmacy as a “drug store” or medicine as “drugs”. Nor do we refer to alcohol, tobacco or caffeine users as druggies. This is a display of the word drug being implicit in reflecting the disdain of illicit drug users while simultaneously ignoring our own legal drug use or abuse.
Each day at the office I am greeted by the aroma of fresh brewed coffee as caffeine users impatiently queue to get their first fix of many cups of coffee for the day. Some of these poor souls aren’t even able to make it to their desks before their next craving drags them to the designated smoking area so that they can get nice and high on a cigarette before eventually settling down at their desks, brimful of drugs. 10 seconds after logging on to their PC and they’re confronted by their digital addictions… Facebook, twitter, BBM and so on.
Their day continues in a haze of caffeine, nicotine and status updates, but soon its home time and finally they’re opening the front door of their homes to be confronted by another in the long line of their substance problems. “Daddy! Daddy! Where my sweetie!” A few lumps of processed and artificially flavored sugar find their way into Junior’s hands and now finally mommy and daddy can settle down to a stiff drink after a long day as Junior peacefully sucks on his fix.
It is clear that our society does not consider all drugs equal, or even consider some substances to be drugs at all for that matter. But there is no denying the reality of both legal and illegal drug use in South Africa. What is it though that fundamentally defines a “drug” in the context of South Africa’s norms? This alone can be a tricky given the many cultural variances of our diverse country, but we all typically take the law as being what defines our perception of what is a “drug” or a “druggie”. So on the surface we have a clear evidence based law that deems what is fit or not for consumption in South Africa. Right?
This is unfortunately not the case, particularly when dealing with marijuana (aka cannabis/dagga). Obviously not all drugs are equal, but how to we judge these substances in order to establish which of them are fit for human consumption? Do we even apply consistent standards for measuring the outcomes of using the substances? That dagga remains illegal in South Africa is testament to our laws being neither consistent nor objective in our consideration of what should and should not be legally tolerated for consumption by responsible adults.
Hands down dagga trumps the two largest legally consumed narcotics on safety, as well as many of the legal runners up. Unlike tobacco or alcohol, it is not physically addictive and can't be overdosed on. When it comes to more contentious issues such as mental health and negative societal impact, dagga carries nowhere near the level of risk of inducing mental issues such as the level induced by alcohol, while the societal cost of dagga abusers who do happen to fall off the tracks is a fraction of that caused by either alcohol or tobacco.
Now some may say, “Yes, but just because two potentially dangerous and lethal drugs are already freely available does not mean that we should allow a third”. This is however a limp objection for continuing to impose a double standard that denies adults the right to choose for themselves if they want to partake in an intoxicant that is categorically safer than the available legal alternatives, while condemning them to have to choose a physically addictive legal option instead.
While all drugs are certainly not to be considered equal, it is worrying that our approach to drug legality is not equal or even remotely consistent. Perhaps it is what we consider culturally acceptable that has more to do with our drug policy than the actual merits of the applicable substances. If that is the case, dagga has reached such a wide level of use and availability in South Africa that there is no possibility of ever getting the cat back into the bag.
The scales are tipping worldwide. Dagga is getting its foot into the legal drug world one toe at a time. Only one question now remains.
Will you oppose the liberation of a long stigmatized plant and its users or will you support its legalization and regulation?
For more info on the local cannabis scene , please visit www.belowthelion.co.za
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