Dagga Couple sticking to their guns as ‘The Trial of the Plant’ becomes a drag
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”.
A marijuana plant.