Deputy minister calls for dagga debate

2015-04-09 20:34

Johannesburg - There will be no immediate discussion on the decriminalisation of cannabis, only a discussion on whether it can be used medicinally, Deputy Minister of Social Development Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said at a conference on the topic on Thursday.

"'We are not going to have a broader discussion on decriminalisation," she said at a conference titled ''Cannibis for medicinal Use, Yes or No?'' held in Benoni.

But, she warned that all aspects of the use of cannabis, commonly known as dagga in South Africa, should be broached before any decision is made on whether medicinal use will become legal."

''I am neutral," she said, but the robust debates South Africans are known for needed to happen.

''Everybody is pushing every boundary... now we are in the mix of the statues. It never ends. There is always something keeps South Africans talking.

"With us having our hands full with the [Economic Freedom Fighters] in Parliament, we add to the mix the discussions about cannabis.

''Ruffle a few feathers and get South Africans away from their statues for a moment... and have the discussion so that we can stimulate discussion."

She did not want Cabinet to outright reject the proposal that it be used for medicinal purposes because the committee allocated to deal with it did not have enough information.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Ambrosini had submitted a private members bill to Parliament to legalise dagga for medicinal purposes as he was in the final stages of terminal lung cancer. When he died in 2013, IFP chief whip Narend Singh has took up the issue again.

Bogopane-Zulu said that by the time it is allocated to a committee there must already be a level of awareness among South Africans about it.

'A leaf or a drug or whatever'

When Bogopane-Zulu commented that she did not know what to call dagga - ''a leaf or a drug or whatever'', Thau Thau Haramanuba, chairperson of the Limpopo-based Rastafarian United Front shook his head and shouted "plant"'.

Somebody else shouted ''tree' and Haramanuba repeated ''plant'', then ''tree''.

Bogopane-Zulu responded: "We need a wider understanding of what this tree-plant-seed is all about."

She asked delegates to consider many controversial topics associated with it: whether it was a gateway drug; whether it was associated with crime; who would be able use it and in what form.

"When you invest time and energy into awarding people an opportunity to have their say... it actually empowers the nation. In everything in a democratic nation, there are those that will say yes and those that will say no.

''Since it is a democratic principle, those that say no will have their say.''

She said South Africa had a drug problem and she had seen evidence of this in her work in the social development department.

"We are a country that has serious problems with drugs and this tree-plant-herb-seed is a base of a lot of the drugs."

"'Designer drugs'' such as Tik are also a problem, she said, with treatment centres constantly trying to find out the ingredients in the drugs in order to develop treatments.

'Would we all move to this religion'

''We also have religious organisations which use this tree-plant-herb-seed and this adds complications because we are a secular state. We have the right to worship, but as we discuss this herb plant seed we must ask: Would we not all move to this religion? "

Haramanuba shook his head and muttered about the dangers of alcohol.

Earlier, delegates were wondering about a small zip lock back containing three seeds, which at first glance appeared to be a conference handout.

At first nobody seemed to know who had put them there, but eventually a conference organiser tracked down Andre du Plessis, who said he lobbies for legalised use of dagga by adults and he had put the seeds on the delegates' tables.

"I have levelled the playing field. Now we are all guilty of cannabis possession."

He will make a presentation later on his research that by 2016 half the countries in the world will have legalised cannabis use.

He said the plant was found everywhere and should be legalised.

"We can't control a plant that grows and cows eat it and poo out the seed and it grows again."

The current legal position in South Africa is that cannibis use and possession is illegal.

Rastafarian Gareth Prince tried unsuccessully in 2002 to get the Constitutional Court to legalise dagga use for religious reasons after he was unable to register as an attorney because of a previous possession conviction.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  narcotics

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