Our FULL Presentation to the Portfolio Committee on the Bill

By |Published On: May 24th, 2023|

Few things are as frustrating as needing to repeat oneself on matters that could be easily resolved, should the necessary attention be paid. It would also help if we are heard in full and not sidelined for the misinformed ramblings of prohibitionists! Yet, here we are.

Below is our full presentation to the Portfolio Committee of the Department of Justice and Correctional Services on the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill (B19-2020), presented on Wednesday, 24 May 2023. We invite you to share this with your social and professional networks, your communities, representatives, and leaders. Our message is a shared one – to unleash our Fields of Green for ALL!

For those who prefer to see and hear Myrtle’s relentless determination to see our Human and Constitutional Right to Cannabis – go HERE.

For those curious about how it went in the Public Hearing – go HERE.

Honourable Members of the Committee,

We have previously submitted comments and given oral representations on two occasions. We refer to questions asked previously, which remain unanswered:

1.) Where is the credible scientific and academic evidence upon which this bill is based or are we to expect the passing of a bill through parliament to proceed without such evidence?

2.) Who is going to come and count my Dagga plants? Will the South African Police Service be charged with counting and measuring the plants of an estimated 20 million South African Cannabis users, cultivators and traders in order that they can enact the irrational and unconstitutional criminal penalties suggested in this bill? The word ‘decriminalised’ is often used to describe Cannabis in South Africa post the 2018 Constitutional Court judgement. This is highly inaccurate, and this bill shows no signs of ‘decriminalisation’ for Cannabis users, cultivators, or traders in South Africa.

3.) Criminals are people who harm other people. It is 1056 days since my partner Julian was shot dead at 2 am, in our bed. The person who shot him is a criminal, not me and my Dagga plants. It is also criminal that the SAPS has NEVER investigated his murder. There is NOTHING I can do about that. I am powerless. But there is something I can do about the threat of criminalisation hanging over the heads of our South African Cannabis community and I will never give up fighting for our rights to evidence-based laws and regulations.

4.) We would like to bring the committee’s attention to an email sent yesterday by the head of our legal team, Paul-Michael Keichel of Cullinan and Associates, explaining the exact legal parameters of plant counting and the law. I trust that the committee and the numerous legal minds before me take note of the facts contained therein. If these legal facts are not taken into account, civil society will be forced to present these facts in court. This will be at our personal expense but the government can rest easy that all expenses related to another court challenge will ALSO be borne by civil society, us, the taxpayers. That is ironic and a travesty of justice as we all gather here and say the same thing, over and over again.

5.) Fields of Green for ALL would like the committee to note that, of the 19 submissions presented over these two days excluding us, 14 organisations, companies and individuals are directly aligned with Fields of Green for ALL. Our aims, objectives and values are the same and we all support each other. Our objections to this bill should be seen as one voice and we are in a clear majority in this room.

6.) We would also like the committee to note the presence of Doctors for Life, the only prohibitionist group represented here. In 2017 Doctors for Life and the state were the reason that our case was rendered part heard in the Pretoria High Court. Our opposition spent 3 full days arguing against the live streaming of the trial. We won that live streaming case in the Supreme Court of Appeal, with a costs order. To date, neither our attorneys or the sheriff of the court has been able to locate DFL in order to affect that costs order and reclaim our expenses. The state has also not paid that costs order. It was with great surprise that we noted the presence of Doctors for Life here as they remain in contempt of court in this matter.

7.) Fields of Green for ALL spent 6 years researching, compiling and publishing our Manifesto. This guiding document was introduced to this committee during our very first presentation here. Yesterday the question was asked “Well, what are your solutions?”. Here are the solutions. This committee has had 5 years to come up with credible, evidence-based solutions but has ignored our hard work. All 14 entities mentioned above, plus many more organisations, companies and individuals both here in South Africa and around the world, support this document.

8.) Fields of Green for ALL has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Counsel. We are considered leaders in our field and have presented our position to communities in every corner of our country and further afield from Nigeria to Montreal, from New York to Vienna. Next week I will be speaking at the African Futures conference in Cologne, Germany on the invitation of the University there and the universities of Bristol and Cape Town. Internationally, our voice is heard but our own government ignores the content of our submissions and the submissions of our colleagues over the last 2 rounds of these hearings.

Fields of Green for ALL notes that comments are only invited for sections of the draft bill pertaining to Industrial Cannabis.

9.) Why is the subject of the use, cultivation and trade in Industrial Cannabis included in a Cannabis for Private Purposes bill but there is no regard given to the personal and private use of Industrial Cannabis?

10.) Where are the protections or uses for our unique, diverse and climatically appropriate “landrace” Cannabis cultivars that have been a cornerstone of rural Cannabis cultivation in South Africa for centuries? This is given the threat of imported “hemp” varieties, pollen drift and unscientific THC thresholds.

11.) I am not going to repeat all the salient FACTS about Industrial Cannabis that have already been addressed by my colleagues, save to repeat that experience the world over has shown that Industrial Cannabis laws and policies that look more like “drug” than agricultural laws and policies, fail in all aspects.

Fields of Green for ALL’s position on the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill remains unchanged. Within our far-reaching constituency and including our fellow civil society organisations engaged in intensive work around the re-legalisation of Cannabis in South Africa, we have not come across one credible individual, organisation, academic institution, or expert who is of the opinion that this bill will pass constitutional muster.

Criminal offences continue to make up a large part of the draft bill. Scientific evidence of harm that would justify such harsh penalties is just not there. The continued laborious breaking up of the definitions of Cannabis, quantities of Cannabis, Cannabis and privacy, Cannabis for communal, traditional, religious use and cultivation, etc, is a symptom of lack of awareness on the part of the legislators of the dire need to reform the relationship between Cannabis and law enforcement, ie, arrests, incarceration, labour issues, family law matters.

We know, and this was mentioned by our attorney and representative of the Umzimvubu Farmers Support Network, Ricky Stone, yesterday, that there is work being done on an all-purposes Cannabis law in the office of the presidency and in line with the promises made by our president in numerous State of the Nation addresses. This committee has only itself to blame for wasting 5 years on an unconstitutional bill. The upcoming elections CANNOT be used for pushing this bill through and forcing us back to court.

Further to comments from yesterday around Cannabis in the workplace and Cannabis and driving we would like the committee to note, very precisely, that Cannabis is stored in the fat cells of the body for approximately 30 days. Presence of Cannabis detected in a urine test or a blood test does NOT indicate impairment. Saliva tests that indicate impairment – either at work or at the roadside – are the only accurate way. These saliva tests are very new and have only arrived in South Africa recently. Citizens continue to lose their jobs & are denied access to their children – to give just 2 examples – on the basis of urine and blood tests. Fields of Green for ALL is currently supporting a case in the Labour Court in this regard.

We have the constitutional right to the private use and cultivation of Cannabis within private spaces yet we are also supporting The Haze Club court challenge and we have been appointed as amicus curae (friend of the court) in this case. In terms of the 2018 judgement we SHOULD be allowed to operate Dagga Private Clubs – of which there are an estimated 400 already established in our country – but our government fails to see that this is a HARM REDUCTION measure which has been tried and tested internationally for the past 20 years. In March I attended a study tour in Spain which included 30 participants from 11 countries. International drug policy advocates recognise that private clubs are a solution to human rights violations associated with Cannabis prohibition but South Africa still wants to lock us up in cages. `

This committee knows well the observations and astute opinions of the honourable Judge Cameron. Are we going to continue to fill our police holding cells and prisons with peaceful, non-violent Cannabis “offenders” or are we going to get this sector off the ground in a human rights, constitutional and evidence-based manner?

If you are reckless and uninformed as to the science of Cannabis and the perceived harms of use, cultivation, and trade, then civil society will be left with no choice but to return to court for the Trial of the Plant 2. I am, personally, the only plaintiff still alive to fight this case but I am comforted and supported by millions of Cannabis users, cultivators and traders in South Africa and around the world. Centuries of use, cultivation and trade have failed to produce evidence of the harms of Cannabis per se, only the harms of prohibition.

Thank you for this opportunity to present these same facts for the 3rd time. We ALL trust that the
committee is taking note this time around. We will not give up this fight until we see Fields of Green
for ALL South Africans, ALL Africans and ALL citizens of the world.

Watch Myrtle’s Full Comments Below:

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Thank you to our FGA Affiliates who help to make our ongoing content creation possible!


About the Author: Leela Baer

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