When an Illinois governor decided to clear thousands of dagga convictions a couple of weeks ago, lawmakers in the United States said “they wanted to repair some of the damage caused by law enforcement’s efforts to combat [the] sale and use of the drug”.
Just so that we are clear, no one and nothing can repair the damage caused by dagga’s racist illegality. How do you repair the extermination of an entire people sacrificed at the altar of religion and law? How do you repair lost and broken lives whose true potential the world will never know because intsango iyahlanyisana? Lives that were shoved to the margins of society because they chose a plant over politics, being over bling, right over might, internal order over social order. How?
How do you repair such damage when the choices they made were so heartfelt — they grew roots on their heads and sprouted a rainbow in their hearts? How do you repair severed family relations when many of those who were preaching the “dagga is demonic” gospel are long dead? When the poison they left as inheritance continues to live in those they left behind.
The truth is, you can’t. You can’t bring back the green warriors we’ve lost in this worldwide march to dagga’s legality. This war for social justice that has, in the end, proven that it is the world — and not the I — ohlanyayo.
How do we make sure it is the social justice flag and not the crass money flag that is flown at the end of this war? How do we make sure this green victory doesn’t become an interesting storyline in the many fantasies of economic growth that abound in our world today?
Maybe we should begin by acknowledging that this was and has always been a racist war. That it is black and brown people of the world who’ve been disproportionately affected by the illegality of this plant. That the so-called war on drugs has largely been a war on marijuana and that the face of this war’s casualty is not white. Let’s acknowledge that the reefer madness was always about keeping the dagga drunk black man from innocent white women because, hell, you know how much zeal they have for rape once they’re all effed up. Let’s acknowledge this, even if we won’t trend because long before the war on drugs commander-in-chief Harry Anslinger, of the US treasury department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics from the 1930s to 1960s, warned of how dagga makes us create “satanic [jazz] music” — the madness had already reached our swart gevaar shores. The madness had long found an asylum here because, like Anslinger, those in government here believed that dagga “makes darkies think they are as good as white men”. So, like the US government officials who were behind laws to criminalise cannabis, maybe it’s time our officials admit too that — as in other parts of the world — these policies were “designed to undermine black communities”. They should help the country and acknowledge this, so the dagga activism of their kin can be seen in its proper context.
If we recognise that this dagga struggle was and has always been a racist war, then we have to see everything that rises in its ashes in colour. We have to recognise that dagga’s most prominent ambassador has always been wrapped in red, gold and green. That this soldier’s racial identity has to be the gospel behind every brick we use to build this new marijuana industry. It’s not good enough to speak of a vision for “an inclusive cannabis industry” and to push for “cannabis regulations that benefit all South Africans”. We have to call out what BuzzFeed news reporter Amanda Chicago Lewis described as the “whites-only weed boom”, because, as in the US, the people going to the bank in this country for dagga are not the same people who went to jail for it. We have to recognise that this soldier’s absence from the cannabis expo is not because of stupidity or laziness, but because of death and injury.
To recognise that “cannabis prohibition was used as an instrument of oppression throughout the apartheid era” and not to say who these oppressed are is not good enough. To wax lyrical about how “the prohibition of cannabis has devastated the lives of millions” — only to refer to these “countless individuals” whose lives were wasted as simply “young people” — is at best disingenuous and at worst ahistorical. To tell us that some 90% of the 2 180 583 people arrested for drug related crimes since 2009 were arrested for cannabis and not say who these people are is just not good enough. It’s not good enough because this is an “estimated 1 962 525 people [who] have been subjected to the trauma of arrest and incarceration over the past 10 years alone”. Yet, these people are supposed to remain faceless.
But how can they be faceless when they’ve inspired generations of young people around the world with their simple courage. When their one love mantra is the reason so many of us are so very black and proud and when the flower power of dagga has unknotted many a lily white heart — to reveal just what is possible when we’re simply human beings. They can’t be faceless because that means they can’t be truly honoured. And honour them we must, because this is the surest way to fly the social justice flag so they know — wherever they are — that this racist war was worth fighting and that victory has not faded their blackness.
Tefo Mohale has been using cannabis for more than 25 years. Facebook page ResponsibleCannab @DaggaDignityis