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Legalise dagga, pair ask court

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Laws relating to the possession and use of cannabis (dagga) are outdated, unconstitutional and irrational and the government should legalise the use of this plant among consenting adults. The use of cannabis is central to the cultural and religious practices of some people; it is useful for medical purposes and by developing hemp (a by-product of dagga) it could create jobs and be of economic value to the country. This is the opinion of two freelance art directors, Julian Stobbs, 51, and his partner, Myrtle Clarke, 44. They filed papers in the Pretoria High Court last week in which they challenged the constitutionality of the Drug and Drug Trafficking Act, as far as it related to the use of dagga among consenting adults. The couple obtained a stay of their criminal prosecution in July, when they turned to the Pretoria High Court. They were facing charges in the lower court relating to the use of dagga, which they have been using for between 20 and 30 years. Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann ordered earlier that their criminal trial be put on hold, pending their application to have the use of dagga legalised. They had to apply within 60 days, which they did a few days ago by serving papers on seven arms of government, including the ministers of health, police and trade and industry. The couple said they were upstanding, taxpaying citizens and it was their right to use dagga without the fear of being caught by the police or thrown into jail. The drug laws, in so far as they related to the use of dagga, unfairly discriminated against them and others like them, they argued. By comparing legislative developments, the prohibition of dagga could no longer be considered as justifiable in South Africa, they said. “Under the circumstances where the use of cannabis affects only the user and nobody else, the state has no business in regulating what an individual does if it does not adversely affect that person, others or place a burden on the state,” they said in court papers. The couple have used cannabis (dagga) for decades for recreational, medicinal, therapeutic, creative and religious purposes. They also make dagga available to visitors to their Jazzfarm in Lanseria. This is for their participation in cleansing ceremonies, spiritual rituals, meditation and therapy. They say they will challenge the laws relating to dagga to protect their own interests and those of all other citizens who use dagga. Part of their argument in court will be that the prohibition of dagga is outdated and unfounded, based on convictions on the harmfulness and dependence-producing effects of the substance. According to them this is in part motivated by “a now defunct racist political agenda”. They say the government in the past relied on quasi-scientific evidence where it was assumed that dagga was harmful and addictive, without accepting its medicinal value. The laws prohibiting the use of dagga sought to introduce notions of the “superiority of European customs and culture into the local legislative framework”. The effect of these laws, they say, was to criminalise behaviour which was acceptable in many indigenous African societies. The government is still due to note whether it will oppose the application. - Pretoria News Date: October 17 2011

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