Dagga Cou­ple stick­ing to their guns as ‘The Trial of the Plant’ becomes a drag

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEREE BEGA

ALL Myr­tle Clarke wants to do is take her sewing ma­chine out and dig in her gar­den again.

“This year, we haven’t had one week­end off,” re­marks Clarke, the other half of the Dagga Cou­ple. “We just want our lives back.”

She and her part­ner, Ju­lian Sto­bbs, have spent the past three years pre­par­ing for what has been dubbed the “Trial of the Plant”, which got un­der way in the high court in Pre­to­ria this week.

There, the cou­ple have mounted an ex­haus­tive chal­lenge over leg­is­la­tion that for­bids the pos­ses­sion and use of dagga, ar­gu­ing this is in­con­sis­tent with the con­sti­tu­tion.

“We’ve given this 100% of our lives. There’s a huge amount to read and sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to sub­mit as this is such a big sub­ject.”

The cou­ple were ar­rested at their Lanse­ria plot in 2010 for pos­ses­sion and deal­ing in dagga but say their ar­rest was in­con­sis­tent with the con­sti­tu­tion.

That the first few days of the trial were be­set by de­lays – at first over live-stream­ing and then over the vo­lu­mi­nous sci­en­tific ev­i­dence they pro­duced – does not sur­prise Clarke.

“We are used to these de­lay­ing tac­tics… There’s def­i­nitely more peo­ple for us than against us. We al­ways tell the truth. Cannabis is a safe re­lax­ant,” says Clarke, an artist.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant that cannabis is le­galised for all uses for all South Africans. That’s why the ev­i­dence for our case is struc­tured across four plat­forms: re­spon­si­ble adult use, in­dus­trial use, hemp, tra­di­tional, cul­tural and re­li­gious use and health uses.”

But Doc­tors for Life, the state’s de­fen­dants, con­tend the court case is not the trial of the plant. “It is about the plain­tiffs try­ing to es­cape the con­se­quences of the law by hav­ing dagga re­moved from the list of dan­ger­ous and un­de­sir­able ad­dic­tive sub­stances…

“The ‘dagga cou­ple’ are not act­ing in the best in­ter­est of South African so­ci­ety and par­tic­u­larly not our youth, the dis­ad­van­taged, down­trod­den and the so­cio- eco­nom­i­cally op­pressed ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties where dagga is rife.”

Clarke dis­agrees. The Trial of the Plant rep­re­sents “the first time the cannabis is­sue has been thor­oughly ven­ti­lated in court” any­where, she says.

“This is the only trial of the plant in the world. All our ev­i­dence is on record so the gov­ern­ment can’t say dagga makes you schiz­o­phrenic. No, it doesn’t. Look at our ev­i­dence. We’re hop­ing to use the court and our draft cannabis pol­icy to change the law on cannabis.

“I can tell you there are peo­ple sit­ting in Par­lia­ment right now us­ing cannabis oil and sneak­ing joints at home.”

To­day, their non- profit Fields of Green for ALL, is host­ing the first ever clin­i­cal cannabis con­ven­tion at Wits Univer­sity, to “help con­sol­i­date our un­der­stand­ing of the plant and its rein­te­gra­tion back into so­ci­ety while re­con­struct­ing ways to max­imise the ben­e­fits and min­imise the harms from un­in­formed use”.

It’s touted as an “op­por­tu­nity for all med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, health care workers, tra­di­tional heal­ers, care­givers and pa­tients to gain valu­able in­sight into the var­i­ous dy­nam­ics of the plant”.

The con­ven­tion builds on mat­ters chal­leng­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the cannabis ar­rests in the un­fold­ing trial.

“The trial and con­ven­tion will ex­pand on the in­roads al­ready made in court and in Par­lia­ment around declar­ing the Drugs and Drug Traf­fick­ing Act of 1992 and the sec­tions of the Medicines Con­trol Act of 1965, in­valid and un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

For Clarke, this is about con­struct­ing South Africa’s cannabis fu­ture. “Since 2010, the call for the le­gal­i­sa­tion of cannabis in South Africa has become in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to ig­nore…

We’re en­gag­ing all sorts of peo­ple and pol­i­cy­mak­ers around the world.”

At the con­fer­ence, US medic­i­nal cannabis ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Don­ald Abrams, who was flown in by the cou­ple to tes­tify at the trial this week, but couldn’t be­cause of de­lays, is one of the lead­ing in­ter­na­tional ex­perts to share the lat­est med­i­cal and le­gal find­ings at the con­fer­ence. Cannabis, he says, can be ef­fec­tively used in the symp­tom man­age­ment chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with can­cer and its treat­ments.

Another ex­pert, Pro­fes­sor David Nutt, a UK neu­ropsych- ophar­ma­col­o­gist, will present ev­i­dence on “putting science at the heart of pol­icy de­ci­sions on cannabis and other drugs”.

PIC­TURE: AP

A mar­i­juana plant.

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