Urge clar­ity on le­gal­ity, or not, of weed be­fore case con­tin­ues

Pretoria News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - SHAIN GERMANER

THE fam­ily de­scribed by the Hawks as South Africa’s largest dagga car­tel is at­tempt­ing to have their prose­cu­tion set aside un­til the courts de­ter­mine the le­gal­ity of the con­tro­ver­sial drug.

The group will be among at least 300 other sim­i­lar ap­pli­ca­tions fight­ing to avoid prose­cu­tion for pos­ses­sion and use of mar­i­juana.

When the Brass fam­ily and its nu­mer­ous as­so­ci­ates were ar­rested in 2014, the Hawks named them as the largest mar­i­juana dis­tri­bu­tion op­er­a­tion in South Africa. Op­er­at­ing just out­side Hekpoort, near Hart­beespoort Dam, the fam­ily’s sup­posed cannabis em­pire grew ex­po­nen­tially as it es­tab­lished six hy­dro­ponic labs and pro­cess­ing farms be­tween Joburg, KwaZu­luNatal and Cape Town.

The head of the op­er­a­tion, Patrick Brass and his three sons, Jared, Wade and Justin, ini­tially rented out the Bona Manzi farm on the bor­der of the North West to be­gin their op­er­a­tion, re­port­edly just 10km away from the near­est po­lice sta­tion.

In 2015, the Hawks re­vealed they had seized equip­ment and dagga worth R150 mil­lion, with the State’s new in­dict­ments sug­gest­ing more than 1 000kg of dried cannabis were seized dur­ing the po­lice op­er­a­tion.

Three years later, the money laun­der­ing, drug deal­ing and rack­e­teer­ing trial against the 15 ac­cused has yet to be­gin at the High Court in Joburg, though the group may have a way of prevent­ing the prose­cu­tion, at least for now.

The le­gal­ity of per­sonal use and the grow­ing of mar­i­juana has been a sub­ject of con­tro­versy in re­cent months as Myr­tle Clarke and her part­ner Ju­lian Sto­bbs (nick­named the “dagga cou­ple” by the me­dia) have been fight­ing for the law around the sub­stance and its dis­tri­bu­tion to be changed. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the Brass fam­ily’s lawyer, SW van der Merwe, he has ap­plied at the High Court in Pre­to­ria for a stay of prose­cu­tion.

He said he would ar­gue that the court re­frains from prose­cut­ing the fam­ily un­til they can launch their own Con­sti­tu­tional Court bid to re­move the ban on dagga, or at the very least un­til the rul­ing in Clarke and Sto­bbs’s case has been fi­nalised – even if the cou­ple’s case also as­cends to the apex court. He said the fam­ily wished to join the other court chal­lenges cur­rently be­ing heard in Cape Town.

Clarke told the Pre­to­ria News Week­end’s sis­ter pa­per, the Satur­day Star, the cou­ple had been work­ing with the Brass fam­ily since their ar­rests in 2014, and were sup­port­ive of their stay of prose­cu­tion ap­pli­ca­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Clarke, the cou­ple’s non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion has al­ready as­sisted 47 oth­ers who suc­ceeded in stay­ing their own dagga-re­lated crim­i­nal cases. The cou­ple is sit­ting with an­other 300 of such ap­pli­ca­tions, as part of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Join The Queue cam­paign. She said that while it may not be the fastest route to get away from a dagga-re­lated crim­i­nal charge, it is the best way to avoid hav­ing a crim­i­nal record un­til the leg­is­la­tion sur­round­ing dagga has been con­firmed.

The Brass fam­ily’s stay of prose­cu­tion ap­pli­ca­tion is set for Oc­to­ber 3, though it’s un­clear if the court will al­low the case to stand down for what could be a years-long process.

How­ever, not all of the ac­cused in the case have ex­pressed a de­sire to de­lay their prose­cu­tions. This week, two of the Brass fam­ily’s dagga cul­ti­va­tors, Mathews Toachem Sadik and Abel Joakin Sadik, sep­a­rated their case from their 13 co-ac­cused af­ter reach­ing a plea deal with the State. The Sadiks have been the only ac­cused in the case who were not re­leased on bail af­ter it was re­vealed they were not in the coun­try legally. In the pair’s plea agree­ment pre­sented to the court on Wed­nes­day, they ad­mit­ted to guilt on three of the hun­dreds of charges against all of the ac­cused, namely drug traf­fick­ing and two charges of drug deal­ing.

Be­cause both ac­cused were first of­fend­ers with large fam­i­lies who re­quired their fi­nan­cial sup­port, the court sen­tenced the pair to 10 years in prison – wholly sus­pend­ed­for five years un­less they com­mit any other re­lated crimes. How­ever, even though the Sadiks dodged any fur­ther time in prison, the pair will be de­ported to their home coun­try of Malawi in the com­ing weeks.

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