In a question and answer session in the South African Parliament at the end of last week, our latest Justice & Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola stated there were 1041 prisoners serving time for dagga related crimes.

Yes. One thousand and fourty one. That just doesn’t sound right. There are 236 operational prisons in SA. Are we to believe there is on average just over 4 dagga convicts per SA prison? OK. So that’s the convicts, but there’s probably over 30 people in Durban Westville awaiting trial cells right now on petty weed charges who’s only crime is not having any bail money. Are they part of the statistics?

The admission arose during a statement the Minister gave outlining a plan to expunge a selection of dagga related criminal records. He was quick to point out there was no provision in the law to give a blanket amnesty and didn’t allude to creating one. Instead, if you were entrapped, coerced, bribed, extorted, blackmailed and bullied into signing an Admission of Guilt by the rottweilers in blue at your local police den of corruption, then there may well be some leniency for you. If you have the time and can afford it presumably.

The details are sketchy but coming from the same man who recently announced his inaugural war on drug ‘abusers’, forgive us if we remain skeptical and somewhere between fake news and incredulity.

We’ve been contacted by countless numbers of young (and not so young) South Africans, distraught at the news they’ve just found out they’ve got a criminal record for a bankie of weed from years ago. We direct them to the SAPS police clearance site. All it takes is a visa application or a job application for you to realise an innocuous hundred bucks fine (with no receipt) and an ‘admission of guilt’ signature would remain hanging over your head for a decade.
There’s not much we can do to help them. It’s heartbreaking.

AOG’s are nasty, and completely quota system driven.

Let’s get back to those 1041 hapless individuals watching Cannabis Expos on the mesh covered TV and  reading about Dagga decriminalisation in their prison blocks. They can consider themselves extremely unlucky, given that the SAPS annual crime stats for 2018 claim over 320,000 ‘drug related arrests’ last year. Not being the shining example of statistical integrity, it is practically impossible to unravel the SAPS’s ‘drug related’ nonsense into meth, tik, heroin, dagga, (add drug), possession, dealing or caught in the crossfire of a gang turf war.
A deeper look into the stats, reveals a more than 63% average as a total of dagga arrests at a provincial level.
That equates to roughly, 200,000 nationally.
It is a telling statistic –  only one in two hundred dagga arrests culminates in incarceration. However, it’s only an incarceration statistic. What about all those South Africans walking around completely unaware they have a conviction for dagga possession?
In all the years we have been activists for legalisation, we’ve only come across one admission of guilt record being rescinded. In 2012 a young man’s argument was the police didn’t tell him of the consequences of signing an AOG. They never, ever, do. He challenged the integrity of the police officer concerned, and won himself a High Court precedent.

Thing is, he did it all within two weeks, while it was fresh in everyone’s minds. The same argument five years into a ten year suspended won’t hold. And anyway, most people five years into a ten year suspended have absolutely no idea they have a criminal record. You’d be forgiven for thinking your hundred buck fine was finished and klaar.
The other thing worth mentioning, if there’s no blanket amnesty and it’s all based on individual cases, the last we heard, it was around R10k to have a record expunged. The legal fraternity will likely coin it, as they are want to do.

Oh yes, and imagine attempting to get a presidential pardon for a weed conviction; Nobody knows where the president is half the time.

All of this begs the question, if the Minister is intent on clearing the names of thousands of convicted Dagga users, why are the cops still on a mission in major metros arresting more dagga users?
The SAPS modus-operandi has descended into warrant-less thuggery intent on trashing equipment and taking the harvest. At best, you’ll be escorted to the nearest ATM, but from our angle at the #StopTheCops helpline, most Dagga arrests of late have little or no chance of a conviction due to sloppy  arrest procedures.

Undoubtedly, arrests have decreased since the September 2018 ConCourt judgement, and if you are unlucky enough to spend a three day weekend in a police cell, (as the Hawks love to arrest folk late on a Thursday), most magistrates are throwing out cases nationwide on Monday mornings. The police must prove ‘dealing’ but most of the arrest reports that come our way only describe harassment and violations.

It’s encouraging to hear the Minister talk of cannabis reparations. It’s the only way. How can someone sell CBD dog treats at an expo or talk of medical licenses throughout Southern Africa when there are countless numbers of South African’s walking around unaware they are criminals for a couple of grams of weed? Talking of licenses…..surely all those expunged individuals should be in the front of the queue for an opportunity to join the Ganja green rush.

But that’s another blog post entirely.