Legalising dagga 'makes sense'

2012-08-13 08:24
Activists have argued for the decriminalisation of dagga. (SAPS)

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

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VIDEO: Legalise dagga

2012-08-13 08:18

This YouTube video summarises the argument to legalise dagga.WATCH

Cape Town - Dagga should be decriminalised as prohibition of the narcotic has become a profitable illicit trade, an activist has said.

"It's a question of accepting that it's there whether we like it or not. It's the number one illicit in the world - that's by a long margin; so it's not a question of releasing another demon into the world, but we need to look at the expense of holding this back," an activist only known as Buzz told News24.

Dagga has been the subject of agitated legislation and many users, particularly in the US have been prosecuted for possession.

However, some studies have suggested that the drug is less addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.

Researchers in January found that several measures of lung health actually improved slightly as young people reported using more dagga - up to 2 000 joints in a lifetime.

Lung protection

"There's no doubt, if you've watched a Harold & Kumar movie, marijuana triggers a cough," said Dr Stefan Kertesz, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who worked on the study.

While marijuana smoke has many of the same toxins as cigarette smoke, he said, people who use dagga tend to smoke fewer joints each day than tobacco users smoke cigarettes. That and the method of inhaling may offer some relative lung protection, researchers have proposed.

Dagga is widely consumed and activists contend that legalisation and regulation would limit its street value, making it less attractive to be sold.

"Is the cost of letting a low harm substance out there worth paying by imprisoning people and crippling their lives with criminal records? In an ideal world, we don't want this sort of thing going on, but this isn't an ideal world.

"It really does come down to responsible use and this is again where people get the cart before the horse. It gives us an opportunity to address it and say: 'Don't let a drug dealer be your first interaction.' Don't give them that power," said Buzz.

It has been shown that young people will find access to toxic substances, regardless of legislation denying it to them and children regularly consume alcohol and cigarettes despite legislation.

According to research by the Bureau for Market Research, nearly 80% of a group of surveyed Gauteng high school pupils regularly consume alcohol.


Buzz argues that by legalising dagga, one could engage with young people rather than have them drive consumption underground.

"Kids are going to use it, but let's lower this chance by having an adult discussion with them about it and being open about it rather than make it this complete taboo factor.

"If we look at sex for example: Kids are going to do it. Let's give the 12 and 13 year old condoms so they can practice safe sex rather than push them into the underground."

He rejected the argument that if dagga was legal, there would be a glut of people growing the herb to sell as additional income.

"How many people do you know who grow their own tobacco or brew their own booze? Or even grow their own tomatoes? Everyone thinks these hippies are going to run wild or it's all going to go nuts, but I don't really think that's the case."

Several 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.

Substance abuse

"If we look at the actual evidence and science behind it, once we look at more liberal policies such as Portugal; the Netherlands, we in fact end up with lower use," said Buzz.

Government officials have vowed to clamp down on substance abuse in 2012, but so far, efforts to make dramatic inroads into curbing underage alcohol consumption have not yielded substantial results.

Buzz said that dialogue would result in a more open approach.

"People are looking at the most extreme views; I think if we look at it realistically, there will be a regulated market of some sort which I think is ideal."

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