Dagga legislation on trial in major court case from Monday

Doctors for Life appeals for financial support to fight legal battle to protect youth, society

On Monday (July 31 2017) the constitutionality of South Africa’s dagga legislation will be on trial in a major court case which is expected to run for most of August and eventually go all the way to the Constitutional Court for a final ruling.

Secular media, which have dubbed the case, “the trial of the plant”, generally go along with the narrative that the so-called “dagga couple” Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, who are plaintiffs in the case (together with one other), are social reformers who are finally getting their day in court after a seven-year campaign to get dagga legalised. The well-funded dagga lobby’s claims that the drug offers many medical benefits, and that current laws are anti-freedom and a hangover from colonialism, are also widely reported.

But Doctors For Life (DFL), who together with seven government departments, are defendants in the trial in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, say that the case is really about drug dealers caught with approximately R500 000 of dagga, whose only hope is a change of the law. According to police records, the couple were arrested on their Lanseria farm in August 2010 in possession of 1.87kg of dagga with an estimated street value of R467 000. The dagga was packed in labelled 5g packages, together with 90g packages of seeds.

How to donate
DFL, a Christian-based, non-profit relief and civil society organisation of doctors who serve the poor and have been involved in many public interest cases, argue that dagga is medically dangerous and that legalising it would cause great harm to youth and society at large. DFL joined the case to assist the State. Even though legal teams have drastically reduced their fees, DFL’s budget for the trial alone is R1-million. To date they have raised R100 000 towards their legal costs and they have made an urgent appeal for donations which can be made via their website: http://www.doctorsforlife.co.za/

The trial, in which the case for and against legalisation of dagga will be argued orally for the first time — by panels of expert witnesses on both sides of the divide, will be followed closely in South Africa and internationally.

Both sides are confident in their positions and much rests on the scientific evidence that will be heard and tested in the weeks ahead — and DFL’s ability to raise funds to stay engaged.

The plaintiff’s star witness is Professor Donald Abrams, chief of the Haematology-Oncology division at San Francisco General Hospital and professor of clinical medicine at the University of California San Francisco.

The defendants’ senior expert is Harvard Medical School Professor Bertha Madras, who is a member of President Donald Trump’s new drug addiction task force.

The “dagga couple’s” version of the argument has been widely published in recent media reports. DFL’s position is outlined in the following Q&A:

What is the case about?

It is about the prohibition of dagga in our society. Scientists have long since proven that dagga and the plant is highly complex and dangerous and must be prohibited, but in our libertarian, care not for the vulnerable world, some believe it is not dangerous and even medicinal.

What about medical marijuana?

There is no such thing. There is no scientific evidence that the plant, smoked, baked into food, distilled into oil etc. can be of any benefit except as a hallucinogenic (mind altering agent). What is relied on to promote medicinal value is anecdotal material and non-scientific trial studies. Of the possible 800 components of the plant a few have been isolated, studied and replicated pharmaceutically, the only way to obtain advantage, to create pain killers which are effective and affordable. But people want to make money out of dagga as a plant and commercialise it. Cannabis oil is dangerous. There are in any event exemptions for medical research.

What does the law in SA say about dagga?

Except for medical and research exemptions, the possession, use, cultivation, transportation and distribution of dagga is criminalised in terms of the Drugs and drug trafficking act as well as the Medicines and related substances act.

Was the law not settled by the Constitutional court in 2002?

In 2002 a Rastafarian brought a case to the Constitutional Court about Dagga where he complained that the law prevented him smoking dagga as a religious observance and this violated his rights to religious freedom.

The court accepted that a Rastafarian’s religious rights were violated but dismissed the case as there is no objective way for law enforcement officials to distinguish between the possession or use of cannabis for religious or for recreational purposes.

There was also a recent Cape Town High Court dagga case?

Earlier this year in the Western Cape High court there was a new attack on South Africa’s anti dagga legislation. The court found that the dagga legislation infringes ones right to privacy BUT only to the extent it prohibits the use of Cannabis by adults in their home.
The court did not legalise Cannabis in public.

So people can now grow and use dagga in their own home?

No not quite yet, if ever at all.

Why not?

Because the court suspended the effect of this order for 24 months to allow the Constitutional Court to confirm, alter or overrule the decision and if upheld in full or in part, then for parliament to pass corrective legislation.

However the court gave an order that until then, this case is not a defence against a charge for possession, cultivation or use in your private home.

The “trial of the plant” will in all likelihood be the final decider.

Why is that?

Because this will be the first and only case where there will be oral evidence given and tested, in the witness stand.

These other cases were fought and decided on affidavit evidence in a day or two.

This case is very different and will take many days in court starting on 31 July and continuing through the month of August.

There are three legal teams comprising six attorneys, 11 advocates, 16 expert witnesses and as many as 12 other witnesses.

The trial will probably be recorded by the media and will also probably go all the way to the Constitutional Court to be finally decided.

DFL’s lead counsel is Adv Reg Willis instructed by the University of Pretoria Law Clinic.

How did this case start?

In 2010 a couple were arrested with approximately R500 000.00 worth of dagga in their home. They became known as the dagga couple.

To avoid prosecution they obtained an interdict in the Pretoria High Court against their prosecution, pending the outcome of a case to declare that all the SA dagga legislation is unconstitutional.

The case is against various government departments and against Doctors for Life International.

DFL joined this case to be of assistance to the State.

So for example DFL will lead the evidence of Harvard Professor Bertha Madras who is one of the foremost authorities on cannabis in the world. She contends that the legalisation of cannabis has to be resisted in the interests of the human brain.

Who is Doctors for Life and what does it do?

DFL is a non-profit relief and civil society organisation of doctors who care and give voluntarily of their own time and money to the many needs of the poor.

DFL is funded by its members for the needs of the underprivileged communities they serve in South Africa and Southern Africa.

DFL also has an extensive track record of being involved in public interest cases predominantly as a friend of the court, especially to assist with scientific and similar evidence.

Ordinarily lawyers act pro bono for DFL. However in a trial action of this nature it is impossible for lawyers to act for free but they have drastically reduced their fees.

DFL has four advocates to pay, the work load is immense, and some have been working for a few years for free.

DFL’s budget just for the trial is R1-million and we have only raised R100 000.

So, then, how is the dagga couple funding their case?

The dagga couple dragged the case out for some years, while they raised money.

They started an organisation called “Fields of Green for All” “FOGFA” which now has over 45 000 supporters who are funding the case.

How important is this case for South Africa?

Given the role of dagga in crime, women and child abuse and the future of our youth, this trial is one of the most important to ever reach our courts.

If the dagga couple win their case as they want to, there will be no restriction on the possession, consumption, cultivation, transportation and distribution of cannabis. The commercialisation of dagga. Our nation will have been captured in the true sense of the word.

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