Cannabis users want same rights as smokers, drinkers

Cape Town - Cannabis users in South Africa want the same rights as alcohol drinkers and cigarette smokers to use the herb without fear of arrest, Dagga Party leader Jeremy Acton said in the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town on Tuesday. 

“We are vulnerable and our plant is also vulnerable and abused,” Acton said.

He said people wanted to be able to watch the rugby and smoke it openly in the same way rugby fans enjoy their beer, for example.

People who wanted to use it for health reasons also wanted a choice between taking cannabis or an Aspirin, said Acton, a user for 27 years.

He said people caught using it were being treated unfairly, and mainly blacks were suffering because of this.

“Racial profiling with regard to cannabis in South Africa is absolutely disgusting. I have seen darker- skinned people stopped and searched without a warrant on the streets, and yet I walk past with my pocket full.”

Acton, Garreth Prince, and 18 plaintiffs are applying to the court for the Criminal Prohibition of Dagga Act (sections 4b and 5c), read with certain sections of Part III of Schedule 2 of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act, to be declared unconstitutional.

Those sections make it a crime to possess a drug, unless it is for a variety of medical reasons.

The Drugs and Trafficking Act defines what constitutes a drug. 

They are also challenging the Medicines and Related Substances Act.

Dagga legislation

They say the ban criminalises many of their constitutional rights and is unfair and prejudices them. It discriminates against their personal choice and deprives people of the right to make their own choice.

They submit that there is no scientific proof that it is harmful, whereas tobacco and alcohol, which is linked to millions of deaths, is legal.

Acton proposed a commission of inquiry into dagga legislation, where people would be free to make submissions. The ban on dagga should be suspended for two years for Parliament to draft appropriate legislation to regulate it.

Acton said it was not just about the right to smoke it. It had numerous untapped industrial and medicinal benefits and people were being deprived of their right to advance these for themselves.

He pointed out that with a dagga conviction “you can forget about getting a visa”, which was unjust.

He said he was facing five prosecutions, but had obtained a stay, pending the high court case.

Prince and the 18 plaintiffs also face prosecution on various cannabis-related charges.

Acton said the South African government should withdraw from the international treaty, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It should then rejoin the convention, making it clear it did not support a cannabis ban. 

The parties do support drug legislation, and some form of regulation of cannabis, but feel the ban is inappropriate.

The case continues.


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