DOPE KINGPINS SEEK STAY
Urge clarity on legality, or not, of weed before case continues
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.