Legalising dagga will worsen SA drug problem — ACDP

Legalising illegal drugs would exacerbate South Afica’s drug problem, said African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) Member of Parliament and Health spokesperson, Cheryllyn Dudley in the National Assembly today.

Calling on the Government to promote awareness of harmful effects of dagga she said: “In response to recent polls and suggestions that ‘legalisation and regulation of the sale of dagga could reduce the negative impact of the criminal drug trade’, the ACDP has raised concerns that the serious problems facing our country due to abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs will not be seriously dealt with, if reduced to a matter of whether or not dagga should be legalised.

“The tragic impact on individuals, families and communities experienced and witnessed daily will not stop until this government gets serious about crushing the drug trade from every angle – making illegal drugs legal – will only exacerbate the problem.”

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She said: “Cannabis advocates, allege benefits of marijuana use with little or no scientific basis. Dagga contains chemicals that affect the brain, heart, and lungs slowing down the central nervous system and stays in the body for weeks stored in fat. It is addictive, causes decreased motivation resulting in poor achievement, can adversely affect fertility and causes negative social behaviour at home and at school.

“In addition smoking any substance causes the smoker to inhale cancer causing substances. It is for that reason that no medicine is administered by smoking it.

“The legal status of marijuana was downgraded in Britain in 2005 to a less dangerous Class C drug, in 2008 the legal status of marijuana was re-upgraded again to a more dangerous Class B drug. And Holland is backtracking after having legalized cannabis for some years – once legalized, the government was unable to separate the criminal element in the drug trade from the legal cannabis trade.

“To say that ‘legalisation and regulation of the sale of dagga could reduce the negative impact of the criminal drug trade in our country’ is in our opinion irresponsible, and the ACDP calls on government to do all it can to promote awareness of the harmful effects of this substance which apart from everything else will negatively impact on productivity levels in our society.

“The ACDP regards legalisation and regulation of the sale of dagga as a defeatist approach to the drug trade presently taking a terrible toll on our country.”


  1. Please do some proper research, ACDP, rather than trotting out the same old, unsupported, misinterpreted “facts”. Oh, and by the way; Genesis 1:29

  2. Hello????? This is the 20th century!! The scientifically proven BENEFITS of Marijuana are available to all. Educate yourself instead of trusting backwards, corrupt politicians. Start thinking for yourself and do some research. There has not been ONE documented case of people dying from ingesting marijuana EVER. MILLIONS die each year from alcohol and tobacco consumption and they are legal. WAKE UP.

  3. This too from people that dont have a clue what they are talking about!!!

  4. We do you get your fake facts from? Have a look at Portugal for an example how things can be done! Dont spread fake facts

  5. Well then we can assume that Cheryllyn Dudley is an uneducated fool… 40 years of the same UN policy on drugs with no positive, lasting social outcomes… British police admit that even with the best intelligence and the best resources, only 1% of drugs are removed from the streets… The gangsterism in South Africa has been through a new police operation every year and still we have violent gangs earning money from illegal drugs… In fact, correct me if I’m wrong but we started with Mandrax being a problem in SA, then Wellconal(pinks), then heroin, then tik, then sugars, then nyaope… every year there is a new campaign and every year we see a new drug enter the market… This fool of ACDP is being lobbied by big business…. the continued war on drugs does not help our communities… we need to legalise all drugs so that gangsters can’t sell them… Cheryllyn Dudley, you and the boss are taking bribes – You are the pinnacle of evil in SA.

  6. Lets not be hypocritical here, you say that Pro Dagga Activists are promoting the positive effects without any proof, yet you provide a list of negative effects without any proof. If we are to sort out the “drug problem” then please, lets do this logically and rationally. Misinformation and guerrilla tactics are something of the past. Why treat drug users as criminals, they should be treated as patients (if it is a problem), this is very effective and has been proven so in many countries (Portugal).

  7. What an ignorant perspective ACDP! So many studies published on line about the benefit of this plant to humans. Time to get informed and re-gauge your incorrect statements.

  8. I support Cheryllyn Dudley in what she presented – and those above who need scientific and medical facts to back her statements they can contact Doctors for Life International. And lets glorify Jesus in our comments!

    • dear diana doctor for life think u can treat being gay like a disease and that abortion should be illegal. So for that very reason you cant take these guys seriously.

  9. Dagga is a safer alternative to alcohol. It has been proven to reduce alcohol abuse.

    Cannabis is safer than water. You can die of water poisoning but fortunately it is physically impossible to overdose on dagga.

    An autopsy of a Australian woman showed that she had died because she consumed 10L of Coca-Cola per day yet there is no warning label. It is not contraband.

    You say cannabis is addictive but fail to mention it is as addictive as watching TV. Less addictive that Coca-Cola.

    You say that you are skeptical on the medicinal properties and choose to ignore doctor and patient testimonials.

    Dr. William Courtney has seen it happen, and on Friday, told HuffPost Live host Alyona Minkovski about it. Saying he was “quite a skeptic 5 or 6 years ago”, Dr. Courtney continued that “my youngest patient is 8 months old, and had a very massive centrally located inoperable brain tumor.” The child’s father pushed for non-traditional treatment utilizing cannabis.

    “They were putting cannabinoid oil on the baby’s pacifier twice a day, increasing the dose… And within two months there was a dramatic reduction, enough that the pediatric oncologist allowed them to go ahead with not pursuing traditional therapy.”

    The tumor was remarkably reduced after eight months of treatment. Dr. Courtney pointed out that the success of the cannabis approach means that “this child, because of that, is not going to have the long-term side effects that would come from a very high dose of chemotherapy or radiation… currently the child’s being called a miracle baby, and I would have to agree that this is the perfect response that we should be insisting is frontline therapy for all children before they launch off on all medications that have horrific long term side effects.”

    Brave Mykayla is living proof that cannabis not only treats symptoms but also cures cancers.

    Dagga causes apoptosis in cancer cells.

    Why is Morphine legal and heroin illegal. These drugs are both derived from opium.

    You say that road accidents are cause by cannabis? To what statistic or events are you referring to?

    More people are killed in road accidents as result of alcohol.

    Why are we led to a poisonous alcohol instead of having a choice for a safer non lethal alternative like cannabis.

    Politicians who support cannabis prohibition knowingly support organized crime.

    Cannabis prohibition places dagga in the hands of children.

    Why is it morally a sin and by law a crime to consume cannabis but drunkard behaviour is morally accepted and joked about by many families.

    Cannabis brings down alcohol abuse becuase regular cannabis user prefer not to drink alcohol or very little alcohol.

    While motor skills are affected by cannabis. One must remember that just like alcohol there should be a legal limit for being able to drive and that it is much higher than that of alcohol.

    a very stoned person will have the mental capacity to know it is not safe to drive and he will not drive. While a functionally stoned person would be able to drive and do so much more cautiously than a drunk person.

    Alcohol which is legal causes much more harm. Cannabis if legalized will bring down crime statistics, road accidents caused by alcohol down.

    The police force would become more efficient.
    The justice system would be freed up along with valuable prison space.

    Your stance on cannabis is based upon outdated information which was falsely fabricated in the 1920s 1930s

    I can contest that I have been a heavy user of cannabis for over 6 years. I am physically fit and healthy. I am very bright and fully functional.

    Any argument made by dagga prohibitionists are void and invalid while alcohol and tobacco is legal.

    You use alcohol in any form? If you drink alcohol, eat Mc Donalds, drink coffee and energy drink such as Monster you are a hypocrit for denying cannabis user their basic human right to ingest a non lethal alternative that is safer than water.

    Mental problems? The only people who should not use cannabis are people with pre disposed mental conditions.

    Just like alcohol does not work well with ever person on earth so does cannabis.

    Dagga prohibition was used in South Africa for one reason and one reason only. To arrest thousands of non white citizens in the appartheid era.

    This stigma has to stop.

  10. To Diana the doctors for life info u talking about are propagnda relics from the USA prohibtion initiative which date back to before u were even born, making it outdated with biased facts to control the minds of idiots such as the ACDP holy then thow mentality. I grew up and live with daga around me in all facets of life but did not enjoy it until university where I excelled in obtaining 3 degrees in science. I believe that this plant weed as u call it should shared with everyone and people should decide for themselves

  11. Wouter Tichelaar

    Sorry sorry, I’m being stereotypical, “Some” Christians are intellectually deficient. You on the other hand Cherryllyn Dudley and ‘Diana’ are just retarded.

  12. Hey dagga damage the mind! We have a lot of scientific facts on our website regarding the dangers of dagga (and therefore it’s legalisation). Legalising dagga did not work in other countries that tried it, why should we try something that is harmful to the youth?

    • Wouter Tichelaar

      Because prohibiting it is causing the youth to be exposed to harmfull drugs such as Tik/Heroin/Mandrax/Cocaine/LSD/Ecstasy/Opium/PCP

      I never take any drugs, I smoke marijuana because it is good for me, it makes me feel good, it makes me happy, it helps me deal with stress (better than alcohol -> which is dangerous too), it is cheap, I can grow it myself.

      Dagga prohibition is the cause for the drug problem in South Africa, not the other way round.

      • Wouter Tichelaar

        And Legalizing dagga did work in other country’s, do your research, the crime rate went down, youth drug abuse went down.

        Further aggression against this amazing plant is exactly what the drug dealers want, because the more you hate on the dagga plant, the more money dagga is worth and the more money you put in the hands of drug dealers leading to more drug dealers on the streets, meaning more exposure to ACTUAL HARMFULL DRUGS to your children!

  13. Hi Cheryllyn. Can you please do the South African public a favour and provide some links to actual research which supports your claims that dagga is “addictive, causes decreased motivation resulting in poor achievement, can adversely affect fertility and causes negative social behaviour at home and at school.
    In addition smoking any substance causes the smoker to inhale cancer causing substances.”

    The burden of proof lies on him/her who asserts, not on him/her who denies.

    The South African public are sick to death of being lied to with the same old regurgitated propaganda year in and year out.
    Please grow some ‘çojones’ and speak what you believe not what you have been led to believe by others.

    The South African public looks forward to hearing what you have to say.

  14. This list is the evidence that I, a dedicated cannabis activist, put forward to not only Cheryllyn Dudley but also to any South African who wants to know the truth concerning cannabis’ health benefits.
    All of the studies and research mentioned in this list were conducted by 100% verifiable, credible, professional specialists, professors and researchers from around the globe.
    Take a look and you will be AMAZED at what you learn about this MEDICINE that mankind has used safely for THOUSANDS of years!

  15. Kiwis on drugs: a blueprint for the future?

  16. Sounds like a lot of hollow claims from the ACDP again.

    Anyone wishing to see the studies and sense in legalising dagga can visit:

    Unlike with the ACDP, we do provide sources for all of our claims and do not rely on cherry picking our facts from outdated news sources.

    The dagga community regards legalisation and regulation of the sale of dagga as a sensible approach to the drug trade and cannabis prohibition presently taking a terrible toll on our country.

  17. Giovanni Versetti

    Lol what a bunch of propaganda. Seriously pathetic. For the writers of this article and everyone involved in publishing it, two words, YOU FAIL.

  18. God is not to be mocked, whatever a man sows, shall reaped

  19. God is not to be mocked, whatever a man sows, shall reap

  20. Tax and regulate it like alcohol , maybe then there will not be such violence associated with it as it will take control away from the violent gangs. Less kids would use it as its easier for them to get cannabis then alcohol right now. Dealers don’t ask for ID. And I will not be told what I can or cannot put into my own body. ITS A VICTEMLESS CRIME ! and I shall sow what I reap gladly and live a long fruitful life as I have had my mind opened and don’t believe in raciest outdated laws.

  21. Cheryllyn Dudley

    Letter to the Editor of the Natal Witness on the Legalisation of Cannabis
    Press Release: 26 April 2012

    The Editor,

    It is with interest that Doctors for Life noticed your article on the legalization on cannabis (dagga). It would appear that this article quotes a web post by Dale T. McKinley. Even though I respect Mr McKinley for plucking up the courage to wade into this very controversial issue, I would like to caution him against using medical arguments. If he wants to use emotional arguments and blend them with being politically correct, that’s fine. Also, quoting one doctor does not make your premise medically sound. After all, one will actually be able to even get some doctors who smoke cannabis/dagga themselves, who will try and argue in favor of the so-called “health benefits” of dagga/cannabis. Making use of the odd multiple sclerosis (ms) patient smoking dope to make him/her feel better about their MS also does not ratify it scientifically either. I don’t know whether Mr. Mckinley realizes the implications of the legislation he is arguing for. Would he really want a team of doctors and anesthetists to perform open heart surgery or brain surgery on him while they are high on dope?

    I am taking the liberty of commenting on the article as a medical professional, with the hope that my letter will receive the appropriate exposure in order to encourage an open debate on the matter.

    In recent years, considerable progress has been made, including the discovery of specific cannabis receptors in the brain. Researchers have also identified THC-like substances produced by the body itself (endocannabinoids) which bind to these receptors. These findings tie in with certain of the effects and side-effects produced by cannabis, above all its effects on psychomotor and cognitive functions and its mood altering capabilities.

    When cannabis is smoked, the THC level in the blood rises quickly, reaching its maximum within a few minutes. If the drug is taken by mouth and stomach (e.g. by eating cookies or chocolate containing cannabis), the maximum THC level is achieved after 30 to 60 minutes (depending on whether the taker is fasting or not). The maximum subjective effect more or less coincides with the blood level. The duration of intoxication is directly dependent on the size of the dose.

    Cannabis contains more than 400 substances, the best known being the psychoactive tetrahedronannabinols (THC). With a slight generalization, cannabis can be said to produce two kinds of intoxicating effect. On the one hand, there are euphoric and calming effects (similar to those of other drugs with a sedative effect, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines) – the taker experiences calm, relaxation, a feeling of happiness and of distance from everyday life. On the other hand, there are more dramatic impacts on the taker’s emotions and cognitive functions – e.g. fragmentation of thought processes, major disruption of temporal perception, distortion of sensory impressions (sound, touch, light, etc.), reduced ability to maintain attention, considerable deterioration of short-term memory/imprinting ability and, in certain cases, a noticeable introversion and dissociation of the taker from other people. At high doses, there appear – in some people, perhaps not in all – hallucinations and delusions, during which the taker does not, however, lose contact with reality. The THC levels differ in different plants, the different areas the plants may come from and even the different places on one plant where the leaves may be harvested from

    CANNABIS IS ADDICTIVE: Cannabis abuse can evolve into cannabis dependence, which is characterized by a compulsive need for the drug, daily or almost daily consumption and difficulties in stopping. The dependence is not only psychological but also physical; the latter aspect is manifested during detoxification as withdrawal symptoms such as moderate anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness. The proportion of cannabis abusers who become dependent has been found to vary considerably in different studies; on average, it is surprisingly high. Of those who smoke cannabis at least once, 10 per cent will develop dependence at some point in their lives. This is one of the reasons why, after the legal status of marijuana was downgraded in Britain in 2005 to a less dangerous Class C drug, in 2008 the legal status of marijuana was re-upgraded again to a more dangerous Class B drug. Cannabis-dependent people are more at risk of being affected by the harmful effects of cannabis smoking, and they are also more likely to move on to other illegal drugs.

    CANNABIS AND MENTAL DISORDERS: (This has received an explosion of research across the world over the past 4 years). The following mental disorders are known or strongly associated with cannabis abuse in that the abuse may cause the mental disorder, precipitate a latent mental illness or severely exacerbate an existing illness/disorder: Delirium (acute confusional states), cannabis psychosis, other psychoses, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depersonalization syndrome, depression, suicide and impulsively violent behavior.

    OTHER EFFECTS OF CANNABIS INCLUDE: suppression of the immune system which in HIV patients can lead to Kaposi Sarcoma, birth defects of babies born to mothers who smoke cannabis, emphysema, bullae of the lungs, tumors of the head and neck, heart disease, testicular cancer, bladder cancer and so on.

    THE DANGERS TO NON-USERS: Cannabis use is strongly associated with juvenile crime. Cannabis plays a role in traffic accidents. Some of the most consistently identified problems with marijuana use are the effect on memory, concentration, coordination and reaction time. The effects on driving skills and coordination are extremely serious, and marijuana is regularly implicated in trauma. Since allowing cannabis dispensaries, California has experienced significant increases in cannabis-related trauma, and cannabis addiction cases far greater than the national average. In the USA in 2009, data from the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the USA, showed that marijuana was the most prevalent drug found in drivers involved in fatal vehicle accidents – approximately 28 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for marijuana. Cannabis is actually taking over from alcohol as the most common drug involved in motor vehicle accidents in parts of the USA. The implications for accidents in the work place are obvious.

    MEDICAL MARIJUANA OR CANNABIS AS MEDICINE: It is most important to understand that legislative actions giving access to marijuana seriously jeopardize consumer protection. Generally, processes for bringing medicine to the public have been established so that science, not emotion, prevails. Medicine needs to come through the medicine control boards of countries to assure safety and efficacy. More importantly, the recent legislative initiatives in some countries to legalize cannabis tend to create medicine by popular vote. Cannabis is not a safe drug, and is far from clearly effective. There is no advantage, and indeed there is a disadvantage, to smoking marijuana over available medications. Allowing such legislation to become law is riding a wave of emotion and mob psychology that has been carefully crafted, financed, and driven by the cannabis lobby. They have declared that the medical excuse of cannabis is the battlefield to gain the overall legalization of pot. The advocates’ strategy remains the same; play to emotion, overstate the benefits of marijuana, use the medical excuse to get the camel’s nose under the tent and then push for more legal access to pot.

    Cannabis advocates allege benefits of marijuana use with little or no clear scientific basis. Neither cannabis nor pure THC has ever been compared to new anti-nausea medications which are extremely effective. Cannabis can actually enhance pain because of a very narrow therapeutic window. The progression of glaucoma is not slowed, and ophthalmologists do not consider it a reasonable treatment. Cannabinoids may reduce muscle spasm, but they damage gait in Multiple Sclerosis patients. While cannabinoids stimulate appetite, they appear to increase body fat rather than lean body mass. No credible evidence exists that marijuana is beneficial for depression, drug abuse, headaches, or menstrual cramps. Time and again we find that most frequent medical excuse users are young people manipulating the system by complaining of pain syndromes that are usually seen in much older patients

    Supporting medical excuse cannabis either reflects serious ignorance of the medical literature, or a malignant misrepresentation of it. Medicine and policy makers must stop this circus of medicine by popular vote which is dangerous, and which plays into the pot of the legalization lobby.

    Smoking any substance causes the smoker to inhale cancer causing substances. It is for that reason that no medicine is administered by smoking it. Dope smokers have been found to inhale deeper than cigarette smokers and to keep the smoke in the lungs longer before exhaling (ammonia levels were 20 times higher in the marijuana smoke than in the tobacco smoke, while hydrogen cyanide, nitric oxide and certain aromatic amines occurred at levels 3-5 times higher in marijuana smoke). Cannabis smoke contains seven times more tar and carbon monoxide than cigarette smoke. According to researchers from the French National Consumers’ Institute, smoking three cannabis joints will cause you to inhale the same amount of toxic chemicals as a whole pack of cigarettes.


    Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, noted already in March 2007 “The debate over the drug is no longer about liberty; it’s about health.” He continued, “Evidence of the damage to mental health caused by cannabis use–from loss of concentration to paranoia, aggressiveness and outright psychosis–is mounting and cannot be ignored. Emergency-room admissions involving cannabis is rising, as is demand for rehabilitation treatment. …It is time to explode the myth of cannabis as a ‘soft’ drug.”

    The American Glaucoma Society (AGS) has stated that “although marijuana can lower the intraocular pressure, the side effects and short duration of action, coupled with the lack of evidence that its use alters the course of glaucoma, preclude recommending this drug in any form for the treatment of glaucoma at the present time.”

    Scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, a medical university, have advanced their understanding of how smoking marijuana during pregnancy may damage the fetal brain. Findings from their study, released in May 2007, explain how endogenous cannabinoids exert adverse effects on nerve cells, potentially imposing life-long cognitive and motor deficits in afflicted new born babies

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes that “[a]ny change in the legal status of marijuana, even if limited to adults, could affect the prevalence of use among adolescents.” While it supports scientific research on the possible medical use of cannabinoids as opposed to smoked marijuana, it opposes the legalization of marijuana.9

    Researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland interviewed over 6,000 youth ages 15 and 16 and found that “teenage cannabis users are more likely to suffer psychotic symptoms and have a greater risk of developing schizophrenia in later life.”

    Robin Murray, a professor of psychiatry at London’s Institute of Psychiatry and consultant at the Maudsley Hospital in London, stated that the British Government’s “mistake was rather to give the impression that cannabis was harmless and that there was no link to psychosis.”

    The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) has stated that it could not recommend medical marijuana be made widely available for people with multiple sclerosis for symptom management, explaining: “This decision was not only based on existing legal barriers to its use but, even more importantly, because studies to date do not demonstrate a clear benefit compared to existing symptomatic therapies and because side effects, systemic effects, and long-term effects are not yet clear.”

    The British Medical Association (BMA) voiced extreme concern that downgrading the criminal status of marijuana would “mislead” the public into believing that the drug is safe. The BMA maintains that marijuana “has been linked to greater risk of heart disease, lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema.”11 The 2004 Deputy Chairman of the BMA’s Board of Science said that “[t]he public must be made aware of the harmful effects we know result from smoking this drug.”

    The American Cancer Society (ACS) “does not advocate inhaling smoke, nor the legalization of marijuana,” although the organization does support carefully controlled clinical studies for alternative delivery methods, specifically a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) skin patch.

    And so the list goes on and on and on.

    Even Holland appears to have now started the long road back after having legalized cannabis for some years. In the 1970’s individuals were allowed to buy 5g of marijuana at a time. Marijuana use among 18 to 20 year olds consequently increased from 15% to 44%. In 2004 Netherlands government implemented an action plan to discourage marijuana use. In 2008 Amsterdam started closing 43 coffee shops. Next, coffeeshops within a certain radius from schools were closed in December 2009. In Nov 2010 coffeeshops a certain distance from borders were closed to foreigners. In May 2011 Holland fully banned all tourists from visiting coffeeshops, the reason? Once legalized, the government was unable to separate the criminal element in the trade of cannabis from the legal trade. The coffeeshops had become a legal avenue for some drug syndicates to sell their goods. A letter from the Dutch Minister of Health at the time stated that “…This law will put an end to the nuisance of criminality associated with the coffeeshops and drugs trafficking.”

    As mentioned in the beginning of the letter, most if not all of the statements made can be supported by multiple studies, by respected institutions, often representing the official stances of the national bodies of countries.

    Dr A van Eeden
    (Chief Executive Officer)

    • Hi Cherryllyn,

      I was going to type a long winded response, but don’t see the need to respond to a subjective, selective and outdated letter that you have copied and pasted. It would have been great to read a personal and thought out response from you, perhaps my expectations were too high.

      So let’s instead cut to the heart of the matter.
      If you caught your mother, father, brother, sister, cousin, husband, son, daughter or friend smoking dagga; would you see that they are arrested and given a criminal record or worse, thrown into prison?

      Only you know the true answer to this question and therein lies the crux.

  22. The whole truth

    ^Once again, how are we supposed to take the good doctor seriously if he provides no resources?

    Please read the following and stop believing the propaganda.

    The drug trade has increased globally in intensity and reach, and substance abuse in South Africa has escalated rapidly. Drug misuse is a major social, legal and public health challenge despite the war on drugs, in which the USA has a disproportionate influence. Why this lack of progress and what can be done about it?

    The use of psychotropic substances is as old as human history. Some use drugs as part of religious observations. The majority of people who partake of drugs use them for recreational purposes. Some become addicted and may cause harm to themselves, their families and society. If drugs are bad it seems logical to wage war on them. However, although ‘get tough’ measures sound attractive they are often counterproductive.

    Attempts to stem evil

    Over the centuries, countries, societies and communities have fruitlessly tried to regulate perceived evils, often related to powerful human needs and drives, namely sex, food and seeking happiness. The Victorians were obsessed with what they perceived as the evils of sex, leading to distorted teachings and actions and much unnecessary emotional suffering.

    Despite alcohol having been used since antiquity, many countries have tried prohibiting its use. The most familiar is the failed prohibition experiment in the USA from 1920 to 1933. Breweries and distillers in surrounding countries flourished as widespread bootlegging and organised crime took control of the distribution of alcohol in the USA. Countries have gone to war over drugs: the Opium Wars (1839 – 1842, 1856 – 1860) resulted from trade disputes between China and the British Empire after China sought to limit illegal British opium trafficking. China lost the wars and had to tolerate the opium trade. War-torn Afghanistan now cultivates as much as 90% of the world’s opium, its trade also supporting the Taliban.

    In the USA Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs in 1970. Another lifestyle result of human excesses is the rising tide of obesity, though war has not yet been declared on foods.

    Harmful substances

    The International Narcotics Control Board established by the United Nations under the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, lists a vast spectrum of narcotic drugs, psychotropic agents and precursors ‘under international control’. However, the substances that cause by far the most damage to individuals and societies, namely alcohol, cigarette smoking and prescription medicines, are not illegal. (To this we should perhaps add the lifestyle matters of food and sex?)

    Harmful drugs are regulated according to classification systems that purport to relate to the harms and risks of each drug. Nutt and colleagues found that the current classification of drugs is unscientific, unsystematic and arbitrary. Using an evidence-based expert delphic procedure they developed and explored a rational scale to assess the harms of illicit drugs and also included five legal drugs of misuse (alcohol, khat, solvents, alkyl nitrates and tobacco). They provide a systemic methodology and process that could benefit regulatory bodies in assessing the harm of drugs of abuse. Their ranking, based on categories of harm (physical harm, dependence, effects on families, communities and society), differed from those in current use. Tobacco and alcohol together account for about 90% of all drug-related deaths in the UK. They are the most widely used unclassified substances, but were both ranked in the top 10 higher harm group and cannabis (marijuana) in the lower 10 (out of 20). Drugs that can be taken intravenously, such as heroin, carry a high risk of death and score highly. Their results also emphasise that excluding alcohol and tobacco from the Misuse of Drugs Act is, from a scientific perspective, arbitrary and that there is no clear distinction between socially acceptable and illicit substances.

    Effects of the drug wars

    Declaring war means that one must have enemies. In the USA these are the drug dealers but also the users. A large percentage of the population has used and currently uses illegal recreational substances such as marijuana and cocaine. Apprehending these ‘enemies’ has resulted in the USA having the world’s largest prison population, 738 per 100 000 people (other examples per 100000 people are 335 for South Africa, 124 for the UK and 30 for India). A large sector of the population is thus criminalised.

    Producer countries have been politically destabilised by the US war on drugs. Huge profits made from cocaine and other drugs from countries such as Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, largely because they are illegal in the USA, have resulted in flourishing drug cartels. Those controlling the supply routes to the USA through Mexico and Caribbean countries wreak havoc through their criminal paramilitary and guerrilla groups, with murder, kidnapping, bribery and corruption, money laundering, etc. Coca has been cultivated for centuries in the Andes. Its legitimate uses include chewing the leaves for their mild stimulant and appetite suppression effects, and as a tea that reduces the effects of altitude sickness. Coca farmers are often at the difficult and potentially violent intersection of government-sponsored eradication efforts, illegal cocaine producers and traffickers seeking coca supplies, anti-government paramilitary forces trafficking in cocaine as a source of revolutionary funding, and the hardships of rural subsistence farming. Further pressure to grow coca for the cocaine trade is caused by the dumping of subsidised surpluses of fruit, vegetables, grain, etc., mainly by the USA and European Union.

    Drug prohibition inevitably leads to political and police corruption. Jackie Selebi, former head of South Africa’s police and Interpol President, was found guilty of corruption and sentenced for accepting bribes from a drug trafficker in 2010. ‘Wars’ on, for example, local growers of coca, marijuana and poppies increase the price of drugs, lessen competition, and encourage cartels by increasing their potential profits. People who become addicted to substances often cannot fund the high prices of illicit products and turn to drug running, robbery and other criminal methods to meet their needs.


    Regulations vary widely from country to country. The UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, under the auspices of which the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) was established, was regarded as a milestone in the history of international drug control by its proponents. The Single Convention codified multilateral treaties on drug control, including the cultivation of plants grown as the raw material of narcotic drugs. Its principal objectives are to limit the possession, use, trade, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes and to deter and discourage drug traffickers through international co-operation. The INCB monitors apparent violations of the treaties and addresses those within its mandate.

    In the USA, where marijuana may be used for medical use in several states, there is a strong growing movement to have it legalised. However, the official US stance is to strengthen the war on marijuana. Elected officials are willing to acknowledge the failure of the drug war in private, but the degeneration of their political discourse and campaign tactics has made reforming the drug war synonymous with political suicide. And since politicians have short-term interests, who represents the interests of future generations?

    South Africa has given much thought and effort to combating the abuse of illicit and legal substances. The Prevention and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act No. 70, 2008, and the National Drug Master Plan 2006 – 2011 seek to reduce demand, reduce harm and reduce the supply of illicit substances (including education and raising awareness) and associated crimes through law enforcement, prevention of community-based substance abuse, early intervention, drug treatment (including rehabilitation and risk reduction) and research. They are supported by many other Acts, government departments, statutory bodies, non-governmental organisations, etc. The City of Cape Town has an Operational Alcohol and Drug Strategy that recognises that the whole community is responsible for tackling the problem. This requires systematic, multifaceted, integrated responses; social inclusiveness; commitment to funding and resource allocation; and recognition that demand reduction is a key principle. The Central Drug Authority is a statutory body established to co-ordinate and direct drug counteraction across South Africa on both the demand and supply side. Further legal sanction is provided by the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act No. 140 of 1992, which determines what the legal acts are in terms of possession, distribution, manufacture, etc. of ‘any dependence-producing substance; or any dangerous dependence-producing substance or any undesirable dependence-producing substance’. South Africa is signatory to the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, and other international and regional agreements concerning drugs.

    The case for decriminalisation

    The war on drugs has failed! Humans have always taken psychoactive substances and prohibition has never kept them from doing so. The international evidence suggests that drug policy has very limited impact on the overall level of drug use. Making people criminals for taking psychoactive substances is in itself criminal, for one is dealing with, at worst, a vice but not a crime.

    The two most widely used legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, lie in the upper half of the harms ranking. This important information should surely be taken into account in public debate on illegal drug use. Discussions based on formal assessment of harm rather than on prejudice and assumptions would enable a more rational debate about the relative risks and harms of drugs. Pragmatism is urgently needed in debates about these issues and our responses to them. The tone of our debate about responses to the treatment and supervision of drug-dependent offenders should change. Focusing on enforcement and compliance further erodes discretion for those responsible for treating and supervising such offenders. Policy should aim to reduce the harm that drugs cause, and not to embroil more people in the criminal justice system. Society should have some faith in the capacity of drug-using offenders to change, and actively assist and enable them to achieve this goal.

    People with a history of drug problems are seen as blameworthy and to be feared. Stigma is a major barrier to their successful recovery and prevents them from playing a more positive role in communities and re-integrating into society. People recovering from drug dependence should be part of the normal community. Such actions have been successfully implemented in some European countries. In the USA there is increasing support for initiatives such as the California Proposition 19, also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, that would have legalised various marijuana-related activities, allowed local governments to regulate and collect marijuana-related fees and taxes, and authorised various criminal and civil penalties.

    While much of South Africa’s approach to drug abuse is progressive and enlightened, evidence-based facts and sober reflection suggest that our strategies require re-thinking.

    The Vision of the National Drug Master Plan is a drug-free society. Human history and international experience clearly demonstrate that this does not reflect reality. We should acknowledge this and develop better ways of dealing with human frailty.
    A more evidence-based, nuanced approach to the harms of drugs is required. For example, it makes no sense to legalise the use of alcohol and tobacco but not the less dangerous cannabis
    (which also has beneficial effects).
    Using psychoactive substances may be a vice but should not be considered to be a crime, thus criminalising a large proportion of our citizens.
    Making drugs illicit cedes their control to the drug dealer.
    Escalating the drug war makes drugs more valuable and attracts more participants into the illicit drug economy.
    Improved state control of substances, as with alcohol and cigarettes, could provide taxes and significantly reduce the roles of drug dealers.
    A recent MRC Research Brief outlines strategies to effectively address substance abuse problems among young people, but decriminalisation is not mentioned. It is time to face realities squarely and rationally debate the question of decriminalisation. Vested interests in maintaining the status quo will have unexpected support from those who stand to lose the most, namely the drug dealers and those in their pay (including the law and politics). All the more reason to proceed!

    J P de V van Niekerk
    Managing Editor – South African Medical Journal

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    2. National Drug Master Plan 2006-2011.
    3. UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961.
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    6. War on drugs. 2010. Wikipedia. (accessed 7 January 2011).
    7. Statement from ONDCP Director R Gil Kerlikowske. Why marijuana legalization would compromise public health and public safety. (accessed 22 December 2010).
    8. Tree S. How to get politicians to admit in public that the drug war has been a complete failure. 2010 Institute for Policy Studies. (accessed 10 November 2010).
    9. City of Cape Town Draft Operational Drug & Alcohol Strategy 2007-2010.
    10. Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act No. 140 of 1992.
    11. Feiling T. The Candy Machine: How Cocaine Took Over the World. Penguin Books, 2009.
    12. McSweeney T, Turnbull PJ, Hough M. The Treatment and Supervision of Drug-Dependent Offenders. A Review of the Literature Prepared for the UK Drug Policy Commission. London: Institute for Criminal Policy Research, King’s College London, 2008.
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    controlled trial. CMAJ 2010;182:1515-1521.
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    16. Kolhatkar S. Reefer sadness. Bloomberg Businessweek 2010; 7 Nov: 62-65.

  23. Seeing as how Cheryllyn has started quoting Doctors For Life’s opinions on medical cannabis please allow me to offer a little more perspective on this matter.

    Both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Physicians (ACP), America’s first and second largest doctor’s organisations respectively have come out in full support of cannabis (dagga) having many and varied health benefits. The American Medical Association has a membership of over 200000 practicing physicians while the American College of Physicians counts 130000 practicing physicians among its membership.
    In comparison the Doctors For Life website acknowledges that they have a rather diminutive grand total of 1300 members.

    Doctors For Life have this nasty and inappropriate habit of letting moralist opinions trump professionalism.
    As soon as I witnessed this for myself I lost all respect for them and their opinions.