Jeremy Acton smoked a lot of dagga as he wrote his legal arguments pushing for its decriminalisation.
That’s why the head of the Dagga Party of South Africa credits the weed for his landmark court victory in the Western Cape High Court on Friday that has now given the green light to the private use of dagga at home.
“I used a lot of cannabis while I answered the State’s lies, propaganda and prejudice,” says Acton.
“That’s why I say this case was won by cannabis, and not just me. It’s a victory for the plant and its people.”
Acton, with Garreth Prince, the Rastafarian lawyer, and 18 others had brought the case before the High Court in December, on the grounds that cannabis should not be a forbidden substance as listed in the Drugs and Trafficking Act.
What matters, he says, is that a full bench ruled in their favour, finding that the possession, cultivation and private use of dagga at home should not be forbidden.
“The judgment respects the right to private use and private consumption and cultivation, in the domestic setting,” explains Acton.
“It doesn’t approach, for example, commercial production or selling and buying of cannabis.
“But it’s actually a first step that allows the Rastafarian people to practice their religion without harassment. Hopefully, profiling by police against those wearing the colours may actually be reduced.”
The court ruled that Parliament had two years to change sections of the Drug Trafficking Act and the Medicines Control Act. The Constitutional Court still has to confirm the ruling and send it to the National Assembly, which the plaintiffs hope will happen this year. Until then, the private use is still illegal.
“The Medical Innovation Bill before Parliament is giving the entire resource to centralised corporate control. The government is trying to appropriate this resource and give it to the pharmaceutical industry.
“But this judgment puts cannabis into everyone’s backyards for their private use and that means the public’s health will start to see benefits.”
This week marked the deadline for public comments on the bill, which will strictly control the cultivation of medicinal dagga under a permit system.
Acton and his peers believe that cannabis should be treated in the same way as cigarettes and alcohol.
“Hopefully, as people start to move over from alcohol rather to weed, I will see a happier, healthier country.
“There’s a notion that the cannabis culture is more peaceful and promotes more co-operation, unlike alcohol.
“I see, in the next two years, the creation of legislation that is for the people, looking at the industrial benefits, the tourism benefits and the clean energy benefits. I mean, the waste products of stalks can be used for petrol to help power this country.”
Prince, who lost a Concourt application to have dagga declared lawful on religious grounds nearly 20 years ago, is glad “reason prevailed over emotion”.
“This is in the sense that not a lot of people may agree with what we’re doing, but we live in a constitutional democracy that requires one to tolerate. The dagga and the Rasta communities feel vindicated.
“We’re not second-class citizens, we’re not criminals. We’re engaging in cultural practices that use cannabis. Most people in South Africa are well-versed in cannabis culture.
“It’s high time that people started using South Africa’s most natural resource to grow the resources to lift ourselves out of poverty.
“It’s not a free-for-all for everyone to start smoking cannabis but it’s a prime poverty alleviator.”
Police arrested Prince in 1989 for the possession of dagga while a law student. He paid a fine, but was rejected from the Cape Bar because of his dagga conviction. Five years ago, he was arrested for growing dagga at home.
“The government has supported the criminalisation of cannabis; now we need to remove that.”
Acton has five dagga cases against him. “They were stayed to have this court case. I do believe now that those prosecutions must be terminated.”
He had a dream several years ago that the police had come to his house, “to ask what dagga was about. I gave them the facts and they said everything was fine and left My dream is becoming real”.