As we wind down to the end of the year there has been a flurry of dagga news in SA’s mainstream media and it’s no surprise that it’s the usual negative vibes.
One of the highlights has been the recent opinion piece prominently featured in the Cape Times, penned by one Dr EV Rapiti of Mitchells Plain and titled “Futures go up in smoke with dagga”. It was the usual rhetoric we have come to expect from those who find comfort in cannabis being prohibited, which is clear from his opening paragraph; “Arguments used by lobbyists in favour of legalising cannabis are based on ignorance and need to be challenged”.
- It is 20 times more carcinogenic than cigarettes
- It is no safer than cigarettes because it is mixed with tobacco
- THC has been shown to increase heart attacks
- It exacerbates schizophrenia
- It could cause psychosis
- Users younger than 15 have a 5 times higher risk of becoming depressed and anxious
- It lowers IQ
- Has a negative effect on driving, flying or practising medicine
- Doubles the chance of having a road accident
- Mixing with mandrax or alcohol could lead to manic violence
What follows is more dagga knocking of issues the doctor has encountered such as suicide, murder and post-traumatic stress. All of which he appears to ambiguously blame on dagga use while simultaneously attributing to polidrug use (using more than one drug at a time).
The good doctor then goes on to say “If we make the mistake of legalising dagga, we will pay an immense price in terms of our economy and education because of poor work and school performance”. This is where we see the doctor go from half truths to completely unfounded claims.
Content does not equal effect as carcinogens are only relevant if they have an effect on users. The longest and most comprehensive study to date looking into the relationship between dagga and lung health showed no negative effects for users. Attributing the effects of other drug use (legal or illegal) to cannabis or the mixing thereof is no different from blaming Coca-Cola for the ill effects of abusing brandy or rum. It’ quite absurd and dangerously misleading, as is blaming an increased heart rate exclusively for heart attacks. Heaven forbid we exercise, dance, work or have sex.
The matter of driving or performing any other task which may have an adverse effect under the influence of dagga is quite contentious. We always advocate responsible cannabis use for all adults, in all circumstances, driving included. However, crash-culpability, on-road performance and driving simulator studies have found that dagga has a measurable yet relatively mild effect on psychomotor skills, yet it does not appear to play a significant role in vehicle crashes, particularly when compared to alcohol. In fact, a new study has found that American states who have legalized cannabis have seen a decline in fatal car accidents.
While mental illness claims are applicable to those with an existing or underlying mental condition, and to the dangers of youth use, a very similar relationship to that of sugar and diabetes, Dr Rapiti has conveniently omitted this. He also chose ignore that the IQ study he referred to showed “no IQ defecits among chronic adult-onset cannabis users”, and that the researchers conclude that their “findings are suggestive of a neurotoxic effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain and highlight the importance of prevention and policy efforts targeting adolescents”. There is no age-limit in the black market, something our policy of criminalization does not address at all.
No one is standing on their soapbox calling for free weed to be dished out at school gates. Tobacco and alcohol have taught us an immense amount about what and what not to do. The ethical conundrums have long been dealt with, as have the exaggerated claims of dagga’s negative impact on users.
We currently have the firmest grasp ever on this much studied plant. Even at the worst case prognosis, the effects of dagga on individuals and society aren’t even in the same league as the ill effects of dagga prohibition; something which is already causing the unsubstantiated burdens the prohibitionists forecast in a legal dagga economy.
Dr Rapiti has mistakenly interpreted the “Arguments used by lobbyists in favour of legalising cannabis”. This is not and has never been about promoting dagga use, as that is what drug dealers do. This is about no longer criminalizing responsible adult dagga users and creating a legal industry in which employment can be created, existing law enforcement tax Rands and new tax Rands redirected to education and other social development programmes, including drug addiction treatment, and no longer watching “Futures go up in smoke with dagga” due to criminal records fucking up peoples’ lives good and proper.
His closing statement however does stumble into the territory of common sense: “I suggest is that we stop relying on the law to combat use of illegal drugs and turn to education campaigns to combat the spiral of drug addiction”.
We can only hope that the good doctor leads by example and leaves the old 90’s testament rhetoric in the past. To teach people about something, you need to first understand it in full.
Let’s educate with more than half truths and convenient omissions.