'Common sense' dagga policy needed

2012-08-27 11:21
Activists have argued for the decriminalisation of dagga. (SAPS)

Activists have argued for the decriminalisation of dagga. (SAPS)

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Cape Town - The policy toward dagga should be informed by a rational discussion on the dangers of drugs, not on the basis of the actions of a minority of people, an activist has argued.

"People are going to do these stupid things purely because of who they are, but if we look at the actual evidence behind it [dagga], we can lower these numbers by taking an evidence-based policy and have an overall effect," an activist, only known as Buzz, told News24.

Buzz advocates for mature discussions on the consumption of dagga and several studies have found that it is less detrimental to lung health than cigarettes.

In January, researchers reported that several measures of lung health actually improved slightly as young people reported using more dagga - at least up to a couple of thousand joints in a lifetime.

"Previous studies have had mixed results. Some have hinted at an increase in lung air flow rates and lung volume [with dagga smoking], and others have not found that. Others have found hints of harm," said Dr Stefan Kertesz, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who worked on the study.


Cannabis is one of the most widely cultivated crops and, despite prohibition in several jurisdictions, use continues to escalate.

Dagga has long been blamed as a so-called "gateway" drug to harder substances like heroin and cocaine, but a Yale study in August disputed this conclusion.

While the authors were at pains to point out abuse of any substance was likely to increase the likelihood of addiction to prescription opiate drugs, the study found that alcohol was more likely to be the gateway drug than dagga.

Using clinical data from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health that showed 12% of young people abused prescription opiates, the survey found that the "prevalence of previous substance use was 57% for alcohol, 56% for cigarettes, and 34% for marijuana".

The findings confirm an earlier University of Michigan study on the effect of alcohol as a gateway drug for young people.

"If you take [our findings] and apply them to a school health setting, we believe that you are going to get the best bang for your buck by focusing on alcohol," said study co-author Adam E Barry.

This has particularly damaging consequences for South African youth as alcohol consumption is high, despite legislation prohibiting it.


Nearly 80% of a group of surveyed Gauteng high school pupils regularly consume alcohol, according to findings released by the Bureau for Market Research (BMR).

Of the 4 346 pupils in Grade 8 to Grade 12 who were quizzed, 66.6% said they had been drunk, 44.8% had done "binge drinking" and 79.4% regularly consumed alcohol, according to the survey by the bureau, which is part of Unisa.

Some studies have shown that more than 100 million Americans have tried dagga and US President Barack Obama admitted to smoking "pot" in his book Dreams from My Father.

Some countries have relaxed arrests for possession of dagga while continuing to prosecute for dealing and in Portugal, a correlation between the country's drug policy and a reduction of adolescent use was observed from 2001 to 2007.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    health  |  research  |  narcotics

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