How a dagga conviction crushed law career hopes

2016-12-15 12:03
Garreth Prince, an applicant to have dagga decriminalised (Jenni Evans, News24)

Garreth Prince, an applicant to have dagga decriminalised (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Cape Town – Rastafarian Garreth Prince is not bitter because a dagga possession conviction as a student stopped him from becoming a lawyer.

He just wishes he could have treated his mother to some nice things with the salary that goes with the profession, after she helped him get through law school.

Speaking outside the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday, where he and Dagga Party leader Jeremy Acton are applying for the decriminalisation of dagga, he recalled his arrest in 1989 as the day his whole life changed.

A student at the University of the Western Cape at the time, he was walking along a road in Kraaifontein, a sprawling suburb off the N1 between Cape Town and Paarl, when police officers stopped him.

They searched him, which he says is typical of the racial profiling of dagga policing - targeting black men, Rastafarians, and people with dreadlocks.

He was drawn to the Rastafari religion at university, after feeling that Christianity had failed him as a black person.

'Spiritual needs'

"Rastafari was a viable alternative. It answered my spiritual needs in a way that makes sense to me," said Prince, stopping to shake hands with the stream of people coming to greet him and thank him for bringing the court application.

Rastafarians are known to use cannabis for spiritual meditation and to promote good health.

He had to pay a R60 fine for the dagga case. When he tried to get admitted to the Cape Bar after passing his exams, the full weight of the conviction came crashing down on him.

He was not allowed to be admitted, and refused to apologise for using cannabis. That was the end of his career dreams.

He tried to get the Constitutional Court to rule that it should be okay to use dagga for religious purposes, but the justices ruled against him.

Fortunately he had no student debt because his good marks had earned him bursaries. He went on to become a community legal adviser, helping people with their legal problems.

But he still feels sad that he was not able to spoil his mother properly, especially since she helped him get into law school during apartheid.

'Not bitter'

"It's not that I'm bitter. I've still got a mother. But she sacrificed a lot in order to see me through university.

"That has left me with a bit of regret," he said.

If they win the case, he hopes to be able to become a professor of law at a university.

"I love jurisprudence," said the married father of two.

In the meantime, he still has one pending case against him – allegedly having a cannabis bush in his garden in Kraaifontein in 2012.

That case, and those faced by Acton and 18 others, have been put on hold pending the finalisation of the high court case.

Judgment is expected to be handed down next year.

Read more on:    jeremy acton  |  garreth prince  |  narcotics  |  religion

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