The current legal status of marijuana in South Africa, as we all know, is illegal. But it’s pretty apparent that the market just keeps on growing; busts are getting bigger and more people are opening up about their support for the herb.
This is a trend not only in South Africa, but all over the world. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s “World Drug Report” states that between 119 million to 224 million of people 18 and older used marijuana in 2010, making it the most consumed illicit drug in the world. The simple fact is that prohibition doesn’t work, at all. But that isn’t what this article is about. Before we get on to the great possibility of weed being legal in SA, we first need to have a little chat about the United States of America.
America is largely responsible for the worlds’ archaic views on cannabis. It all started with one man, Harry J Anslinger. After prohibition of alcohol had ended, Anslinger was appointed head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
By using mass media as his weapon, Anslinger propelled his anti-marijuana sentiment to a national movement by spreading false truths, fear, racism and propaganda. By 1937 cannabis became illegal in an act drafted by Anslinger himself. By 1973, president Nixon had officially declared a War on Drugs and formed the current Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Before all of this, cannabis was perfectly legal in most parts of the world, but America’s firm place in the global economy ensured that their views on drug policy were seen internationally.
Fast forward 20 years and America sees it’s first medical marijuana law take shape in California, voted in for the people, by the people – a first step towards the re-legalization of Cannabis. There are currently 18 American States that have medical marijuana laws in place, but there’s still a big issue at hand; Cannabis is considered illegal under federal law. This has led to lots of clashes with the DEA, mostly in the form of arrests and raids on medical marijuana dispensaries and patients. Tax paying businesses which are fully legal under state law are being undermined and ruined by the Feds.
A few years ago we wrote about California’s Proposition 19. It was an initiative that would allow Californians to vote on whether cannabis should be legally traded and regulated for recreational use within their State. The vote went down to the wire in 2010, with the proposition losing by an extremely narrow margin. It was a sad day for marijuana activists and supporters across the globe, as what would have been a legalization ice breaker instead fell by the wayside.
Over the past few years, we have seen huge momentum and growth in the US marijuana movement, resulting in both Colorado and Washington fully legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. The plan is to have a legal and regulated industry for growers, retailers and users. The industry itself may take a few months to be setup and there will undoubtedly be a few teething pains as it takes shape. A few rules also go along with these new laws, but the short and sweet of it is that citizens of these States will no longer be criminals for possessing marijuana.
The move beyond simple decriminalization cements these States firmly in the path of conflicting Federal marijuana laws which fiercely oppose the use of marijuana for any reason whatsoever and will be the litmus test for other States who also wish to move in the legalization direction; as well as testing the reaction of the United Nations. Although decriminalization of marijuana is permitted at the discretion of the respective country (aka Amsterdam), legalization is not permissible under the UN’s Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs; a policy that is under increasing fire due to its counter productivity far outshining its unachievable and misguided intentions.
The War on Drugs has first and foremost been a war on people, initiated by fundamentalist leaders who saw no need to define global drug policies on little more than their judgemental ideals, and yet they have maintained their vice-like grip no matter how epic a fail this policy has repeatedly been proven to be. The line has been drawn in the sand as the US tally now stands at 18 States allowing for medical use and 2 allowing for recreational use, with millions of dollars to be legally made and saved. If California alone can generate over 100 million Dollars in tax revenue per year from the legal sale of medical marijuana (forget hemp and recreational marijuana), shouldn’t we as South Africans, at the very least, be discussing this issue more openly?
Unlike Americans, South Africans do not have the luxury of being allowed to decide our laws at a provincial or national level via policies that have been petitioned and qualified for a public vote. We instead have our freedom and liberty defined by politicians who consistently display how out of touch they are or how little they care for the citizens of South Africa, often using our Constitution as little more than an occasional guideline that can be ignored if it does not fit their agenda.
A case in point is The Dagga Couple, who are fighting their way to the Constitutional Court in a bid to assert our right to consume cannabis without persecution. Their case is gaining support from the public and continued media attention is bringing the discussion out into the public domain. This will be the second time our Constitutional Court faces a case regarding the cannabis use, with the current case from The Dagga Couple being fundamentally different in that it seeks to not be limited to religious grounds as was the previous case of Gareth Prince. Another defining factor is public participation in this case in order to demonstrate that this is not a case of two individuals verse the law, but rather a country full of individuals verse the law; individuals who should not be considered criminals simply for consuming cannabis.
Hands need to be raised though to show how large the support for legalization in South Africa is and you can do your bit by completing The Dagga Couple’s petition. As it did in Colorado and Washington, public support is needed in South Africa to make this change happen sooner rather than later.
Already South Africa’s first hemp crop in over a century has sprouted and is on its way to showing fruit, thanks to the immense work done by Tony Budden of Hemporium. A first hand example of what we have to gain from hemp alone will go a long way in showing what we have to gain from cannabis overall.
The big question remains though… “How long ‘till its legalized”? The answer… “How long is a piece of string”? It really is all relative, but the more we push together the sooner we will see change. Colorado and Washington have shown that there is no longer any “if” about the matter.
The “when” is up to us.