The Harms of Harm Reduction

By |Published On: October 5th, 2016|

We get this ‘Harm Reduction’ thing….we really do. It’s all very commendable and humane. Drug users shouldn’t be criminalised, they should be treated for their substance abuse in a hospital ward, not cold turkey in a jail cell. We see it happening in courts all over South Africa. Instead of a young dagga user being squeezed into the prohibition mincemeat machine and a certain criminal record, Magistrates are using their powers to order a ‘diversion program’ to avoid more incarceration.

It works like this. To avoid a criminal record for your drug ‘abuse’, you’ll be sent to a SANCA or a NICRO for a month of Saturday rehabilitation. The circumstances vary from province to province, city to city and case to case, but generally speaking, if you’re good and take your medication, appear at the group therapy sessions and pass a urine test in 30 days or so – your docket for dagga possession will be ripped up and thrown in the bin.

All this is, of course, for your account and runs into a few thousand rand in most cases. Time, travel (because you’ll go to a rehab closest to the court, not your house), messed up weekends, and all because of your ‘drug problem’.

That’s where we get a bit peeved at the whole harm reduction sham. What if you are like us and the millions of other Safrican weed users who DON’T have a dagga problem, or a drug abuse problem or an addiction to weed problem or a substance abuse syndrome?

What if your use of weed, like ours, is part of a healthy balanced lifestyle choice and we, like millions of you, have no need for a rehab whatsoever?

Where do WE fit in to the harm reduction paradigm? Why is our use of the cannabis sativa plant construed as being abuse and why do the lawmakers continue to equate use with abuse?

The first line of harm reduction is to stop the arrests in the first place, not to offer us some quasi assistance from an opioid based rehabilitation centre after a weekend in a police holding cell.

A lot of the time at Join The Queue, our online legal assistance portal, we suggest to the client (a twenty something person bust with a couple of grams) to request the ‘Harm Reduction’ route. It’s the quickest way out of their situation. No extra lawyers fees, no repeated appearances and fee sucking postponements – just a few weeks of listening to “Hello, my name is Harold”.

We even hear of people who pay an under the counter rehab fee to avoid having to come to classes – just rock up in six weeks time for the piss test.

The rehabs are corruptible too obviously.

So, remember the ‘diversion program’ route if you are standing in front of a magistrate. It wont stop your reputation being sullied, it won’t bolster your self esteem in any way, it won’t help your dignity, and it certainly won’t ‘cure’ you of anything, but hey… least the docket will go away and you can head home for a nice cup of tea and a spliff.

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About the Author: Jules Stobbs

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