Simon Williamson

Legalise marijuana!

2014-02-20 08:09

Simon Williamson

On Wednesday Inkatha Freedom Party Member of Parliament Mario Oriani-Ambrosini called for the legalisation of medicinal marijuana. Although Oriani-Ambrosini's call seemed to be specifically related to cancer treatment - the man was diagnosed with lung cancer last year - his stance, although progressive in relative terms, goes nowhere near far enough.
From the outset, let me be clear: I don't smoke marijuana; I have no personal dog in this fight. But there is absolutely no justifiable reason for any government to interfere in an adult's decision to smoke this particular drug.
If danger to one's self is what the government is allegedly protecting us from, then why on earth would it permit us to consume alcohol? The South African Medical Journal in 2012 said we lose 1% of GDP every year purely because people are hungover. And that’s mere money – what about severe health and criminal problems like foetal alcohol syndrome, drunk driving, and a direct link between alcohol and violence. The best the government can do here is suggest a ban on alcohol advertising, and perhaps get fiddly about what shops in what province can sell wine on Jesus’ weekly day. That’s it!
Marijuana, although not negligible to one's health, doesn't contribute toward domestic violence, nor does it destroy babies in the manner of FAS, nor is it any more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol. TIME Magazine said in a 2010 article, "Estimates vary, but compared with tobacco, which hooks about 20% to 30% of smokers, marijuana is much less addictive, coming in at 9% to 10%. In contrast… 15% of alcohol users [get addicted]."
But marijuana gets a total ban. Smokes and liquor do not.
So indeed, some marijuana users could show signs of addiction, most notably when stopping after long-term use. But if we assume people are grown up enough to make their own decisions when it comes to brandewyn and Stuyvesants, then why shouldn’t they be allowed to do the same with pot?
The other impact of criminalising something everyone does is that it goes unregulated. For example, the meat you buy at the grocery shop is subject to government oversight, which is why we can shop with a reasonable probability of not being poisoned. With weed - which has a widespread use - that surety is not the case. As an example, Germany, not all that long ago, saw an increase in young people suffering from lead poisoning, because illegal distributors of marijuana were artificially inflating the weight of their product with lead filings.
Regulation need not stop at what goes into the product. There are reasonable rules to be added, such as not giving it to minors, driving under its influence, or smoking it in public places. But regulation thereof would be accompanied by a jump in tax revenue, particularly if the Manuel-Gordhan model of gouging cigarette smokers more and more every year is imitated. If that money doesn't go to the government, it goes to the people who produce and distribute the drug (often cartels).
Police would also be able to focus on actual crimes that harm people, like burglaries, rape, theft and murder, instead of wasting energy on adults making their own decisions about something far less severe than booze (which, as a reminder, is something with real effects on other people, and which is paid mere lip service by national and provincial leaders). 
I applaud Oriani-Ambrosini for pushing for some legalisation on Wednesday, but there is no reason to stop there. Government should have absolutely no right to decide whether adult South Africans can or can’t partake in a bit of giggle-twig.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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