Criminalisation of dagga is racist - Cannabis Working Group

2015-04-09 21:16

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Johannesburg - Keeping the use of cannabis criminalised is racist and deprives people who grow it of an income to support their families, the head of the Cannabis Working Group told delegates at a conference in Benoni on Thursday.

"Our own history shows a very racist viewpoint, using very racist words," said Andre du Plessis, who had earlier placed a small ziplock bag containing cannabis seeds on delegates' seats as a "physical protest" against resistance to the plant.

Deputy Social Development Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, who was a guest speaker, would have been in the room if police had swooped in to arrest those in possession of the seeds.

The department and the Central Drug Agency hosted the conference.

Du Plessis believed that detractors were using anecdotes on crime and health problems, instead of hard evidence, to motivate why cannabis was supposedly a problem in society.

Asking for a show of "cannabis virgins" (about three in the room), he said even US President Barack Obama and intellectual and linguist Noam Chomsky considered criminalisation of its use and possession racist.

The trouble started, he explained, when the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was signed in New York in 1961. It made cannabis production and supply illegal for all signatories, including Uruguay and states in the US, which have since decriminalised it.

"Dagga prohibition, cannabis prohibition, has been race-based forever."

He related how, while a conscript in the apartheid-era army, he was part of a squad that went to “look for insurgents” at the Aurora mine in Springs, on the East Rand.

They arrested two "insurgents". All they found in their possession was "a butternut and a bag of weed". 

They took the cannabis and smoked it while watching children playing soccer, and thus the evidence against the men went up in smoke.

He said people conflated hemp and cannabis, and did not understand enough about it. South Africa's climate was not favourable to growing hemp, so cannabis was grown instead.

Pointing to regions on a map of the world, he said: "Where brown people live, you grow cannabis".

The subject has been written about widely, with 21 000 books on the subject for offer on Amazon, and even Pinterest has a category on it.

"Find out about cannabis and don't lie about drugs," he said, complaining that heroin was the problem with the drug nyaope, and not cannabis, which was used as the combustant.

"Don't conflate the two."

'You can make bricks'

He said many of the people central to policy research did not know enough about the subject.

"Despite laws, cannabis is still prolific in South Africa. If you remove the fibre and heads, add lime and river sand, you can produce bricks [using a butane method]," said Du Plessis, showing a house in Spain built this way.

He suggested that houses could be built out of the plant, saying there was an International Hemp Building Association.

He showed a picture of a grandmother sitting on a rock with rolling hills behind her and revealed that the pastoral scene was actually five cannabis fields.

The grandmother walks long distances to sell her "ntsango'' to white students. Every week the police "shake her down", but she continues, he said.

He showed a picture of a man holding crops sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate by police. If the police had left him alone, he could have sold his crop in Washington, in the US, for $30 000 a kilogram. "But he went hungry for a year.''

The glyphosate itself, he claimed was being linked to oesophageal diseases. It was not, as some people had suggested, the result of decades of grinding maize into flour.

Du Plessis said he provided medical cannabis to Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini when he was in the final stages of lung cancer.

Ambrosini, who eventually committed suicide, introduce a Medical Innovations Bill before his death, in a bid to make medicinal cannabis use legal for people such as himself.  

He supported regulated use for adults and believed illegal and unregulated markets led to gangsterism.

"Alcohol is legal and regulated [but] 250 deaths this weekend? As yet, nobody has given me a value of the cannabis death rate this week."

He challenged delegates to read a bill he had proposed to cover the plant’s regularisation.

"It's only four pages with two pictures. Keep calm and catch up," he said.

Thau-Thau Haramanuba, national chairperson of the Rastafari United Front, agreed that criminalisation of cannabis was racist, but also questioned why the subcommittee at the conference to deal with the religious aspect of cannabis use was a Christian priest.

Rastafarians allow the use of cannabis for religious reasons.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  drugs  |  cannabis  |  dagga

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