On 20 April 2018 – a day when millions of Cannabis Culture enthusiasts celebrate their favourite plant – undercover police did a random, warrantless search on some people who were on their way home. One of them was Vince, who had 50 grams of Dagga stashed away in his backpack. Vince is in his 50’s and self medicates with Dagga on a daily basis. He lives with his 80 year old mother. He finds it difficult to get work as he has been diagnosed with bipolar spectrum disorder, looks after his mother and he has only one eye as he lost the other in a childhood accident.

His mother was the one who came to bail him out that night at the Douglasdale police station. (A very familiar police station for this type of arrest). Bail was set at R500, one third of her state pension.

At his first court appearance, the case was postponed. This happens most of the time while the court waits for evidence, the accused seeks legal help, or in most cases, the magistrate knows Dagga is a curve ball and the law may change soon, so they don’t give it a second thought and keep postponing for any arbitrary reason they could find. Magistrates often seem too scared to dismiss the case even though their gut tells them it is the right thing to do or they hope that more clarity will arrive by the time of the next appearance, which it never does.

So Vince did the right thing and contacted Join The Queue where he was told NOT to sign an admission of guilt, the only hope the magistrate may have had of wrapping up the case with a conviction. He proceeded to get his case postponed. The court had to comply with as Vince decided to apply for a Stay of Prosecution. Before the privacy judgment of 18 September 2018, getting a Stay (have your case officially put on hold) was the best route of action for anybody arrested on Dagga charges.

The application for a Stay of Prosecution took roughly a month, involved quite a bit of travelling to various government departments, printing out hundreds of rands worth of papers, in quadruplicate, navigating the finicky red tape and court compliance and having to know your story every step of the way during the application process. A Stay of Prosecution is not something officials are very familiar with, so you really have to know what you are doing if you applied for one. Once all this was done Vince had to wait for the application to be approved.

It was declined. No reason given.

Vince went through nine court appearances at Randburg court, often not with the same magistrate and often with brief and rude postponements for arbitrary reasons or no reasons given. Magistrates continually tried to convince Vince to admit guilt and go on a diversion programme. Bravely, Vince insisted that he is not a criminal and pressed on with the case.

For the past year, we held Vince’s hand and tried to get as much legal backup as we could. Greendalph Greybeard, who many will know from the recent horrific arrest and detention at the same police station, was often on hand at court to offer support. Advocate James Grant was a great help and even attended court to help at a reduced fee, which Fields of Green for ALL covered. We charge a nominal fee for our #JoinTheQueue service for those that can afford it so that we can sponsor people like Vince when they need legal help.

This week, 14 months since Vince’s unlawful arrest, Advocate Grant received a letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions, Gauteng Local Division.

They withdrew charges without an explanation.

How’s that for a waste of time?

By Charl Henning, #JoinTheQueue Dagga Arrest Helpline Administrator