Below is the story to which Dean of Students, Dr. Vivian de Klerk wrote a response to Activate. Her letter can be found at the end of the story.
By Karlien van der Wielen
If Jules Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke have their way, there might soon be 3.2 million less criminals in South Africa.
That is, if the press-dubbed Dagga Couple’s campaign to re-legalise cannabis in South Africa succeeds. Stobbs and Clarke, owners of multi-purpose venue Jazzfarm just north of Johannesburg, have issued a challenge to South Africa’s Constitutional Court against the 1992 Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act.
“In short, the prohibition of Dagga is unscientific, racist, irrational and wrong,” the couple states on their website.
According to most sources cannabis sativa, or merely cannabis, originated in Central Asia, and its first recorded use was in 2700 BC, when it was mentioned by one of the fathers of Chinese medicine.
Cannabis use has stretched over the centuries in varying forms and with varying amounts of support. Ancient Egyptians used it in different forms as a remedy for various ailments. Difficulties arose when Egyptian medicine effectively became Islamic medicine, and cannabis’s psychoactive effects classified it under intoxicants according to the Muslim Sharia law. Prohibition was enacted ineffectively by the 13th century, and Napoleon also tried his hand at criminalising the drug. Pope Innocent VIII of the 15th century considered it, according to a UK cannabis information site, an “unholy sacrament of the Satanic mass”.
However, there were times when cannabis was vastly popular, and advocated by such figures as President George Washington and Queen Victoria. Some states and countries made cannabis production mandatory, and hemp – which is related to the cannabis plant – was a major industry throughout the world.
In the 1900s things started to look bad for dagga. Various countries outlawed the possession and use of cannabis and South Africa officially made it illegal in 1928.
The Dagga Couple claims that its criminalisation and continued status as an illegal drug is due to racist and colonial laws, which are sustained today through US propaganda. The couple also claims that their constitutional and human right to ingest anything they please is being violated by the prohibition of dagga.
“Isn’t it your right to self medicate, to injest [sic] whatever you feel helps your situation?” their website proclaims. They point to “countless cancer, leukemia, glycoma, and multiple sclerosis patients” across the world who experience relief from pain and other symptoms with the use of marijuana.
There are several ways to consume dagga, the most popular being smoking joints or bongs, and oral ingestion via food. Studies have shown that the active ingredient in cannabis – THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, if you insist on the long version) – is three times more potent if orally ingested, since the smoking of cannabis inhibits some of the transmission of this constituent.
A large part of the Dagga Couple’s campaign is based on their claim that there is no empirical and scientific proof that cannabis is detrimental to anyone.
Furthermore, they suggest that it is a “victimless crime” (if, they assert, it is indeed a crime). This sentiment is echoed by various articles circulating the online cannabis support community, with statements that deny the validity of studies which show any detrimental effects dagga might have.
An article published on MyNews24 by ‘Buzz’ reads: “Just as Apartheid and similar establishments drilled the ‘White is right’ mindset into its citizens, we are still drilled with the misconception that ‘Dagga is gaga’.”
Among the reasons they list various detrimental side-effects, the threat of developing schizophrenia and the idea that dagga is a “soft drug” which leads to the use of drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
There seems to be no critical response to the Dagga Couple other than disapproving comments from church groups and queasy parents. The call for empirical evidence as to dagga’s negative effects on their website has gone unanswered (except for support messages from fellow cannabis consumers). The information most base their aversion to dagga on is labelled as “outdated”, “misinformed”, “propaganda”, “hearsay” and “unscientific baloney”.
Whichever side of the debate you’re on, you will find ‘evidence’ among the myriad of studies surrounding cannabis with which to stake your claim. The illegal status of cannabis makes it hard to conduct research openly, and thus most people can only base their opinion on hearsay. Judging by their support in South Africa and abroad, though, Dagga Couple does seem to have a few veritable points.
Cannabis does, however, remain South Africa’s drug of choice. It is estimated that over 3.2 million citizens used cannabis in 2008, and this number steadily rose (although recent censuses have not been completed as of yet). If the Dagga Couple’s campaign succeeds, there will be at least 3.2 million fewer criminals in South Africa. Their success will mean that the choice to use dagga or not will remain in the hands of individuals and not in those of the state.
Below is the Dean’s letter:
I write in response to the article in Activate (20 March 2012): “Dagga couple for the ‘re-legalisation’ of weed”, which is an alarming example of an insidious advocacy group making irresponsible claims. The issue of drugs, and specifically marijuana usage is of grave concern to my Office, given its attendant risks, and I therefore seek to set the record straight through the medium of the same paper which was so generous in airing the views of Ms van der Wielen. In her article, she makes little attempt to provide a balanced view of dagga and its effects, and implies that there is no empirical evidence regarding dagga’s negative effects. This is biased, misleading and dishonest. The article is a mischievous blend of some facts and half-truths mixed with a few wild claims, resulting in conclusions that any competent Philosophy 1 student could dispose of without difficulty (assuming, of course, that they weren’t high on dagga). But the danger is that such an article could be very affirming for any (uncritical) student who seeks to justify why they use cannabis. Indeed, the article provides the uninitiated and adventurous student with grounds to try it.
To ensure that our students do indeed get a balanced view about cannabis, hopefully before they try it themselves, I have therefore asked a few local professional experts to supply our campus newspapers with the kind of empirical evidence that Activate apparently could not locate. I’d also like to ask that Activate take a more responsible and balanced editorial line in future.
From my side, I wish to emphasise only three points that every student needs to consider before trying cannabis: firstly, it is impossible to predict who will get addicted or who is prone to psychosis, and just taking it to see “how it goes” is a huge risk (my source: Counselling Centre and local psychiatrists’ reports). Secondly, dagga is an entry level drug; the real danger is that once a student gets hooked onto the “high” and finds they cannot repeat it, they often move to the next level of dangerous hard drugs (my source: local medical practitioners). Thirdly, dagga usage is of particular concern in a learning environment, because it impairs cognitive skills related to attention, reasoning and memory (evidence: the academic records of known users). I ask all students to consider their own wellbeing and academic future very carefully before they take this risk.
Dr. Vivian de Klerk