Dagga Laws in South Africa
When I saw the sculptures by Tom Otterness that are dotted around the beach front in Scheveningen, The Hague in The Netherlands, I immediately thought of my frequently used Twitter hashtag #stoplockingusupincages. The group of beguiling figures are called “Fairytales at Sea” and at first glance, they are quite cute. As you stand and look you realise that they are also disturbing. As disturbing as the fairytale that is our justice system. Being in the Constitutional Court last year was like a “fairytale dream come true” but as we wait for judgement and deal with the sewers that are the police stations, magistrate’s courts and Dept of Public Prosecutions we are disturbed, very disturbed, EVERY DAY.
Stay in prosecution against dagga laws in South Africa
This week, in the Johannesburg High Court, an order for a stay in prosecution for a Cannabis charge was handed down. This should have been cause for celebration as we have been fighting for 5 years to get such an order from this particular court. Today the accused was back in the magistrate’s court and charges were withdrawn.
On the very same day, an accused in a small country town was told that his papers explaining the stay in prosecution process were invalid. Exactly the same papers used in Johannesburg on the same day. The court threatened him with jail time if he didn’t pay a R5000 fine. The man is elderly and still traumatised by the arrest so he paid the fine and now has a criminal record. And so it goes on…
Altogether there have been 90 stays in prosecution granted in 7 of the 9 divisions, including 8 of the 15 High Courts. Through our direct representation to Magistrate’s Court we have also achieved 15 stays in these “lower” courts and will persist in an attempt to make it more simple and less traumatic for the accused. Most days we get turned away so our 90 victories over 5 years are bittersweet when considering that we should ALL be equal under the law and EVERY SINGLE Cannabis arrest should be given the same treatment and consideration.
Trying to make amends for South African Cannabis Laws
Our #JoinTheQueue team (above left but Charl is missing!) keep going somehow because we know that this will all come to an end one day. We are heartened by people who turn up to support their friends at court. It is also amazing to watch people channel their anger and exasperation into support for the cause after they have smelled the inside of a jail cell. We have always said that the best activists are those who have experienced the trauma of prohibition firsthand. We salute those who have trusted the process and done what’s right. Applying for a stay is by no means the easy way out but we will all be vindicated in the end.
As we roll the dice the stories become more bizarre. A High Court advocate working for the state told me that “They bring the Dagga in from Columbia so we have to act in the interests of the public”!
Tell that to the young man who was handed down 5 years for cultivation of Dagga in the Eastern Cape last week. Tell that to the family who have lost their breadwinner.
Looking to the future and the inevitable legal regulation of Cannabis in South Africa, we are excited for the time when the purpose of #JoinTheQueue will be to expunge all the criminal records ever handed down for Cannabis in South Africa. This is one of our non-negotiable outcomes and something we are prepared to fight for until we get it. We can hardly expect an apology from the government for 100 years of prohibition, but this will offer some solace.
Because the end is in sight and we have to plan for the future, we are taking our Desired Outcomes on the road. We hope to cover the whole of South Africa as best we can so check out the places we have already booked and contact us if you can offer a venue in your home town.
AND… For those of you who think that Cannabis is legal, IT IS NOT, in ANY FORM and tomorrow may be your turn to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and we hope our Dagga Arrest Helpline never hears from you!
Be safe out there, it is a jungle of injustice.