The Shouts of “Ganja!” and “We have defeated Goliath!” rang out from the Constitutional Court gallery as Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo handed down his judgment yesterday, permitting people to cultivate and use cannabis “in private” and for their private use.
Outside the Constitutional Court, people lit up and puffed away at their joints, sending wreaths of smoke from the “holy herb” wafting over the crowds while music played, and others danced at the news of the unanimous decision.
Rastafarian Garreth Prince – who represented himself in the Constitutional Court as the first respondent – told reporters he had been on a 21-year journey following his conviction for the possession of dagga, which prevented him from becoming a lawyer.
“Sixteen years ago, a majority of the Constitutional Court held Rastafari was not fit and proper to be lawyers in this country. They condemned not only me to poverty but all of SA,” Prince said.
“Today is a vindication for the Rastafarian community, the cannabis community, as well as for myself in the sense that I am to be given the dignity and the respect that I as a Rastafari deserve.”
Another person who would have welcomed the legislation would have been former Inkhata Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who took his own life in 2014 at the end of his battle with terminal cancer. Shortly before his death, he had introduced the Medical Innovation Bill to parliament which sought to, among other things, “legalise the medical, commercial and industrial use of cannabis”.
A woman who withheld her name to ensure her privacy welcomed the ruling. “Many cancer patients battle with debilitating nausea and pain and many of them find that dagga helps to ease some of their symptoms. “I hope the next step is to allow doctors to prescribe dagga for medical use.”
Attorney Richard Chemaly said the judgment was huge in many aspects. “One is the extension of the privacy aspect. The second is the court has now created an even stronger defence than the Western Cape High Court, so in effect, you could get away with smoking in a private space,” Chemaly said.
However, use dagga in moderation and don’t expect it to be a panacea for everything. That’s according to South African Medical Association vice-chairperson Mark Sonderup, who said the Constitutional Court ruling was unsurprising, given the worldwide trend of decriminalising the use of cannabis.
“There are two sides to a coin. I think decriminalisation is a step in the right direction. Does the criminalising of a substance have any value in terms of people using illicit substances, then the answer is probably a resounding no.
“But the use of cannabis is not without potential harm. The debate becomes a ‘whataboutery’ debate, where people say yes to cannabis, but what about alcohol, tobacco? The reality is that alcohol and tobacco excess is bad for you as well, but you will not convince me personally that chronic cannabis use is completely safe,” said Sonderup.
“Aside from lung disease, cannabis and psychiatric conditions – although infrequent – were linked,” he said.
Johnny Campbell, House of Adam Kok IV Griqua’s Chief shares the concern. “I hope we’re going to heal ourselves instead of killing ourselves, because it’s like medicine, if you take too much over a long time, you will become addicted, and eventually die.
“When you are addicted, it means you need help and it may not rescue you or save you from eventual death,” Campbell said outside the Constitutional Court.
Referring to what is becoming known as the “cannabis economy”, he noted it had the potential to boost the economy.
Non-profit company Fields of Green for All said cannabis plants had applications in industrial, cultural, traditional, religious and health platforms.
Neil Webster of the Cannabis Industry Development Cooperative (CDC) in the Western Cape said it was only a question of time before cannabis was fully integrated into the economy.
“The challenge for the CDCSA is to assist government to develop an enabling legislative framework to ensure that the potential economic opportunities are extended to the poor and marginalised of our society,” Webster said.
The Risk Of Smoking
The WHO website on marijuana use has this to say: The acute effects of cannabis use have been recognised for many years, and recent studies have confirmed and extended earlier findings. These may be summarized as follows:
Cannabis impairs cognitive development (capabilities of learning); free recall of previously learned items is often impaired when cannabis is used both during learning and recall periods;
Cannabis impairs psychomotor performance; human performance on complex machinery can be impaired for as long as 24 hours after smoking as little as 20mg; there is an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents among persons who drive when intoxicated by cannabis.
The chronic health effects:
Prolonged use may lead to greater impairment, which may not recover with cessation of use;
Development of a cannabis dependence characterised by a loss of control over cannabis use is likely in chronic users;
It can exacerbate schizophrenia in affected individuals;
Heavy cannabis consumption is associated with a higher prevalence of symptoms of chronic bronchitis and a higher incidence of acute bronchitis than in the non-smoking cohort;
Cannabis use during pregnancy is associated with impairment in fetal development leading to a reduction in birth weight.