THE Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) is not known for doing much that is sensible. These are the guys, after all, to whom the South African National Defence Force unionists look when they seek examples on how to run riot, trash a city centre and snack on the hand that feeds them.
For a change, though, Popcru had it right when it this week pushed for the legalisation of dagga. If the South African Police Service abandoned its futile war against tokers, resources would be freed up to focus on more serious crime, said the union at its annual conference.
While the Christian organisation, Doctors for Life, slammed “Potcrew” as opening the door to hard drug use, the union argued that regulation similar to that on alcohol sales would counteract this. It is certainly true that cannabis is less addictive than nicotine and alcohol, and that moderate use poses a negligible danger to health, according to a research review by the British medical journal, The Lancet, a few years ago.
Popcru’s proposal, which has been a regular feature of its congresses for a few years, does nothing more than mirror trends elsewhere in the world towards the legalisation, or at least the decriminalisation, of dagga use.
In spite of draconian drug laws, the use of marijuana, weed, dope, pot, cannabis, Indian hemp, insangu call it what you will, has increased steadily in every Western country. In Britain 40% of teenagers, 30% of junior hospital doctors, and 20% of university students use it regularly, although interestingly, following decriminalisation, usage among the young has fallen.
Even the rabidly hardline anti-drug United States, where about a third of the U.S. population is estimated to have tried cannabis, allows its use for medical purposes, mainly to counteract the nausea and vomiting that is caused by chemotherapy.
It is the influence of the U.S. that unfortunately makes it highly unlikely that South Africa will ever legalise dope.
The classification in international treaties of cannabis as a dangerous narcotic is the direct result of U.S. pressure. The U.S. buys into the thin-edge-of-the-wedge argument and the massive resources it throws into the “war against drugs” inclines it towards a punitive response towards any country seen as being soft on drugs.
Nevertheless, in South Africa there are sound arguments in favour of legalisation. The most compelling of these is reality.
Dagga is already the most important cash crop along the eastern seaboard. Nationwide it is estimated that the annual turnover in an informal dagga agriculture is twice that of the legal liquor trade.
Dagga is also the ideal indigenous crop. It flourishes in even the poorest soil and as a multibillion rand industry provides a livelihood to many thousands of rural people.
There is no alternative commercial crop that can come close as a substitute in terms of hardiness and the cash income produced.
Imagine the effect on the fiscus if, instead of fruitless expenditure on trying to destroy an industry which the SA Police Service has conceded to be ineradicable, dagga was legalised, controlled and taxed.
This would also relieve the SAPS of being in the unhappy position of not only having to destroy the livelihoods of the poorest of the poor, but because of the centuries-old role of dagga in African society, encouraging a potentially dangerous contempt of the law.
Dagga smokers are no more offensive than tobacco smokers and generally a hell of a lot more benign in their demeanour than those addicted to alcohol.
Nor is the legendary passivity of the dopehead an undesirable trait in a country that bubbles with potentially explosive levels of aggression.
By William Saunderson-Meyer
Additional source: Myths about dagga: http://www.drugpolicy.org/marijuana