Banning dagga because it’s harmful is like banning sugar

03 August 2017 - 14:59 By Katharine Child
Marijuana plants. File photo
Marijuana plants. File photo
Image: Paula Bronstein

The dagga trial will examine whether the harmful effects of the adult use and the sale of dagga are greater than the harmful effects of criminalising dagga and locking up people for selling it.

Johannesburg residents Jules Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke‚ charged with possession and dealing in dagga‚ have brought a case to have the law banning dagga use ruled unconstitutional and sent back to parliament for rewriting.

Don Mahon‚ advocate for the dagga couple‚ says the state wants to keep dagga banned because of its "harm". But‚ Mahon said the dagga couple don’t deny the plant has some harmful effects.

However‚ a lot of the dagga couple's argument and expert witnesses will look at the "extent" of such harmful effects and whether the benefits of legal dagga override the harm.

Mahon asked if the harmful effects of dagga were "so severe" that they justified the "blunt and broad force of criminalisation".

He said locking up someone in jail for selling dagga may be more harmful than someone using dagga.

The state‚ in legal papers‚ contends dagga should remain illegal because it is harmful to society‚ the economy and individual.

The government says it is a "dependence producing substance that cause psychological harms".

Mahon also said the state's case ignores the harmful effects of the criminalisation of dagga use and only focuses on harmful effects of using dagga.

Starting the dagga trial after three days of delays by technical arguments‚ Mahon said if everything harmful had to be banned‚ then sugar‚ alcohol‚ sky diving and tobacco would be illegal.

He asked "whether it was justifiable‚ rational and fair to treat cannabis users differently‚ to users of substances that are more harmful than dagga".

He pointed out that people who use harmful substances such as tobacco are not jailed. The dagga couple argue nine of their rights in the Bill of Rights are violated by the ban on dagga for recreational and medical use and hemp production These include the right to dignity‚ the right to privacy‚ the right to healthcare and the right to freedom of association and the right to equality.

Mahon said once they had proven that the state's laws had violated their constitutional rights‚ the onus was on the state to prove why those laws were necessary.

Doctors for Life are also saying the harmfulness of dagga means it should be illegal. One of their witnesses is a psychiatrist.


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