State's case against dagga slammed

07 November 2017 - 14:46 By Katharine Child
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Dagga legalisation law marijuana gavel
Dagga legalisation law marijuana gavel
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

It is up to the highest court in the land‚ the Constitutional Court‚ to decide if people can light up a joint in the privacy of their own home.

The Western Cape High Court decided the laws that banned the private use of dagga in a person's home were unconstitutional in March and ordered parliament to remake laws governing the cultivation and private use of dagga within two years.

The case was brought by Rastafarian and lawyer Garreth Prince‚ Jeremy Acton of the Dagga Party and others‚ who also want police arrests to be declared unconstitutional.

The state‚ including the Department of Trade and Industry‚ Department of Health‚ Department of Social Development and Department of International Relations‚ is appealing the decision.

On Tuesday the Constitutional Court was unusually colourful with lawyer Prince representing himself in his own case in his flowing colourful robes and many traditional healers all dressed in red and holding balloons.

Members of the public included a long-haired man called Greendolf‚ after the fictional character "Gandalf"‚ who wore long robes and carried a long staff.

Moments of humour broke out when acting Chief Justice Ray Zondo asked a legal question about if 20 milligrams was a reasonable amount of dagga for private use.

The government has appealed the ruling allowing for private use at home. Advocate Thomas Bokaba stood before the court‚ explaining why the government believed it had a right to limit the use of dagga.

He said smoking dagga increased crime‚ affected the poor and vulnerable the most‚ and caused mental illness and psychosis.

If people smoked in their homes‚ "there will be enormous pressure on drug treatment facilities". Bokaba also said criminalisation of smokers was an appropriate sanction.

Bokaba was unable to answer repeated questions from Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga on how lawmakers could decide to allow alcohol which is harmful but to ban dagga.

Because Prince and Acton are both representing themselves‚ the court asked lawyer Ron Paschke to present evidence as an "intervening party".

Paschke had harsh words for the state's legal case. "The evidence the state has provided has been inadequate."

He claimed even the state conceded in its case cannabis was less harmful that tobacco and about only ten percent of users become dependent on dagga.

Paschke said the state did not provide evidence that banning dagga actually helped mitigate its harms or reduce its use.

Paschke argued that prohibiting dagga was more harmful than allowing it to be used.

After attacking the state's case he argued that‚ "while a joint or two of cannabis cannot cause medical harm‚ arrests can cause immense harm".

"It can cost accused their job and their custody of their children."

Prince told the court he wanted more freedom than that being allowed to smoke at home and wanted the court to declare arrests for dagga use unconstitutional.

He said police had "too much power" to arrest him for suspicion of carrying even one cannabis seed.

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