Legalising dagga would almost double the number of accidents on South Africa’s roads and cost the country’s economy heavily, claims the Central Drug Authority (CDA), which is opposed to a recent high court judgment paving the way for the plant’s legal recreational use.
“There’s evidence to show marijuana inhibits a person’s ability to respond in an emergency,” CDA chairperson David Bayever said this week. “The number of reported incidents of road accidents in countries such as the United States, in states where recreational use has been legalised, has increased dramatically and that’s attributed to marijuana.”
Bayever said the authority plans to advise the social development department to appeal the judgment in the Western Cape High Court allowing the possession, use and cultivation of dagga in a private place.
“Obviously we will say that it [the judgment] is premature and it [the government] should appeal against it,” Bayever said.
Last week the court ruled that the right to privacy enshrined in section 14 (a) of the Constitution allows for the use, possession and cultivation of dagga in a person’s home. The judgment needs to be confirmed by the Constitutional Court and Parliament has two years to change the law.
This means that, although the judgment has been widely celebrated, dagga remains illegal.
But the leader of the Dagga Party, Jeremy Acton, is not satisfied with the judgment, although he appreciates that it provides some protection for dagga users and growers. “This judgment has put dagga right where it is needed, in the people’s gardens.”
But the party would also consider an appeal of the judgment to extend the protection to people who carry dagga on their person.
“We’re considering the appeal because we’re trying to look at how this helps us. The case of using it at home is fine, it’s a sanctuary. But the issue of carrying it on your person from one place to another still makes you open to a stop and search by police without a warrant,” Acton said.
Two years ago, the social development department commissioned the CDA to conduct research into the feasibility of making dagga partially legal, and how to integrate it into the formal economy. The organisation has not yet completed the research.
The CDA is more concerned about the harm caused by dagga, which it believes was not adequately considered in the high court judgment.
Among the risks, Bayever said, is the potential abuse of dagga by teenagers and children. He said South Africa has an underage drinking problem and legalising the use of dagga at home could worsen this.
“Here we have a judgment that says it’s alright for adults to use it, but how are we going to make sure that children don’t smoke it? As the public, we don’t have the necessary discipline to allow the judgment as it reads in its current state,” he said.
The other risks the CDA associates with smoking dagga include the evidence of the effect it has on the brain and claims that the active ingredient that causes cancer is found in dagga and its tar.
There’s also a cost to the economy, Bayever charged: “We need to consider the extent to which it is going to cost the economy based on carnage on our roads, rehabilitation of people being injured while high on dagga and the rehabilitation of people who become dependent on dagga.”