Rarely, if ever, do we see anything written in South Africa.

Even after the work on medical marijuana legislation by the MP Mario G. R. Oriani-Ambrosini,

This opinion piece illustrates the arguments / discussions currently in play in South Africa

30 March 2016 at 14:16pm

By: Stephen Pain

We should be growing marijuana here in sunlight, reducing carbon pollution and earning ourselves some dollars in the process, writes Stephen Pain.

I have yet to read the texts recommended by Clifford Schaffer in his letter “Drug laws not helping” on March 15, but otherwise I agree wholeheartedly with his views.

Richard Nixon, under immense pressure following the US disaster in Vietnam and the looming Watergate affair, desperately needed a rallying cry to divert the public’s attention and a “war on drugs” fitted the bill perfectly.

It also put the blame for the thousands of returning heroin-addicted GIs wholly on the drug itself and not on their horrific wartime experiences.

In The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Social History of Drugs, Richard Davenport-Hines observed: “Nixon was a chronic insomniac who indulged in binge-drinking when stressed.

“He also acquired a clandestine drug habit from his friendship with the New York financier Jack Dreyfus.

“Dreyfus credited the anti-convulsant phenytoin (Dilantin) with curing his chronic depression in 1958 and spent a fortune promoting the drug.

“Nixon asked Dreyfus for some Dilantin in 1968 and was given a bottle containing 1 000 pills. Nixon procured further supplies from Dreyfus and may have been mixing Dilantin, alcohol and sleeping pills during his final months in the White House.”

Such was the mind-state of the man largely responsible for current drug policy, also in this country. Our government’s continuing support of Nixon’s war on drugs was reported in this newspaper on March 11 in a report titled “SA ‘under attack from heroin, coke’ “.

There was no mention of crystal methamphetamine (tik) or methaqualone (mandrax), although both are widespread throughout the province. (In fact the photograph of officers laboriously “counting drugs” looked very much like mandrax buttons to me.)

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko underlined his opposition also to marijuana, so he obviously hadn’t read this newspaper’s Business Report article on March 8 about the success of the US’s burgeoning legal marijuana market.

And as far as I know there have been no reports from the newly legalised states of dagga-crazed addicts roaming the streets and causing mayhem.

Of course the need to separate the issue of marijuana from the problem of drugs is not one for the police minister alone, but must be addressed sensibly by the government as a whole.

Our government should also note the Business Report article on December 22 about the huge financial and environmental cost of growing cannabis indoors in the US. It is estimated that they burnt $6 billion of electricity in 2012 alone and the market is growing rapidly as more states legalise.

We should be growing it here in sunlight, reducing carbon pollution and earning ourselves some dollars in the process.

I am quite convinced that here in Riversdale, which is a generally conservative farming community, a majority – and quite a large one at that – of people believe that the use of marijuana/dagga in the home should be a personal choice for each individual adult.

I say this because since my appearance before the local magistrate on March 14 on charges of “cultivation and possession of dagga”, I have been overwhelmed by words of support (many in strict confidence of course) from all sectors of the community. There are Rastafarians who are openly supportive, as are many of the alternative/new age lifestylers in our area.

A clear majority of historically disadvantaged individuals seem to be in favour of personal choice. But I’ve also been approached by conservative Christians seeking medicinal cannabis oil for ill or dying friends and relatives.

There are farmers – regte plaas boere – who would far rather their employees get stoned on weed than drunk on alcohol, the immediate and subsequent effects of the former being far less troublesome than those of the latter.

I have been offered seeds to start growing again, and dagga to keep me going so long, by respectable pillars of the community; business owners who either use it themselves or know somebody close by who does.

And there are policemen and court officials – too scared to speak up of course – who are sick of enforcing such an unpopular law when they have many more important cases piling up.

Lastly, I had to smile at this newspaper’s report on March 16, “New drug stirs pot of hope”; not so much at the subeditor’s witty headline, but because of the learned words of GW Pharmaceuticals chief executive Julian Glover, who said “Cannabinoids can produce compelling and clinically important data, and represent a highly promising new class of medications”, this in relation to treating children with a rare, severe form of epilepsy.

But there is nothing “new” about using cannabis-based preparations to treat epilepsy. On July 4, 1840, a pioneering paper by Sir William O’Shaughnessy-Brooke “On the preparations of the Indian hemp (Cannabis indica)” was published in the Lancet. The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission of 1894 reported: “Cannabis indica must be regarded as one of the most important drugs of Indian Materia Medica.”

It was used to treat brain fever, cramps, convulsions in children… and a host of other ailments.

And as Davenport-Hines (ibid) remarks: “Many European physicians were impressed by hemp’s effects on convulsive children…”

An amendment of the marijuana laws in South Africa is clearly long overdue.

*Pain is a member of Friends of the Earth CC

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.