In what seemed like an endless roll of postponements, Jeremy Acton of The Dagga Party of South Africa and Ras Gareth Prince finally got to have their day in the Cape Town High Court fighting for legal dagga in South Africa. And what a two days it turned out to be. Judges Vincent Saldanha, Dennis Davis and Nolwazi Boqwana watched the two activists slug it out with the State’s overly defensive legal team; a team who was reprimanded by the judges as having insufficient evidence.
The usual suspects were argued about. Things like cannabis being safer than either alcohol or tobacco, which have repeatedly been scientifically proven to be far more harmful legal substances, and the internationally growing trend towards more constructive policies of legal dagga. These views by Acton and Prince were supported by over 4,000 pages of evidence presented to the court challenging sections of the Criminal Prohibition of Dagga Act, Part III of Schedule 2 of the Drugs Trafficking Act and the Medicines and Related Substances Act. State Advocate, Thomas Bokaba, however described the evidence as weak despite not providing any real evidence of his own and seeming to take issue with the plaintiffs defending their human rights; “The applicants have chosen to cite every conceivable right under the sun.”
This did not slip past Judge Davis whom raised the concerns of the only real evidence submitted by the State to be of “conflated morality and legality” and that the standard of citizens defending themselves not be set so high as to prevent Acton or Prince from presenting their case. Not letting the State think that it could simply stroll its way through the court, Judge Davis struck at the heart of the matter when pointing out that the State had continued to fail to provide evidence that prohibition is the only solution to the matter of cannabis use in South Africa, “You did not put out any contradictory evidence”, “You have to show why the state is justified in the approach it takes”.
The judge added that there was evidence to show that there were better ways to deal with the issue than impose a complete ban on usage.
The State stuck to its guns though when insisting that it had an obligation to protect citizens from themselves, even if the application of this approach was hugely disproportionate. Something that Judge Davis was also cautious not let let slide was asking the State to quantify whether the harms of cannabis are anywhere near that of the currently legal practice of allowing pregnant women to drink alcohol.
Prince argued that legal dagga was about equality. “This is an equality issue. Cannabis should be treated the same as alcohol and tobacco‚” and that cannabis prohibition was a waste of police resources; “If somebody commits rape or murder, then arrest them. But cannabis?”
It is refreshing to see Government being put on the back foot as they have always lacked any evidence to support a prohibition that they have so religiously enforced for over a century. Both sides have now had their say and the Cape Town High Court will announce it’s decision in the next few months. Until then we will just have to hold our breath as one of the few last remaining bastions of Apartheid smoulders out.