‘It will create a police state’: Dagga Party calls cannabis bill ‘fascist’
Dagga Party founder Jeremy Acton said the cannabis bill has a 'clear intent of criminalising people'.
Cannabis sativa plant. Picture: iStock
The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, which aims to cater for those who use marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, has been met with fierce opposition in Parliament.
The cannabis plant was decriminalised by the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) in September 2018 and gave Parliament 24 months to amend the relevant laws.
Almost five years later, Parliament is now looking to finalise the bill, which was tabled in 2020.
Although it is not a criminal offence for an adult citizen to use, possess or grow cannabis for personal consumption at home, the buying and selling of marijuana remains illegal.
The public was invited to provide comments on the proposed amendments to the bill, which seek to broaden its scope to include provisions relating to the commercialisation of hemp, the use of cannabis and its production.
The window for written submissions closed on 28 April this year.
‘Malicious and costly’
The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services met on Tuesday to discuss the submissions it received from the public on the bill.
Iqela Lentsango, also known as the Dagga Party, indicated during the meeting that it was opposed to the bill as the legislation in its current form fell outside the mandate of the ConCourt judgment.
Dagga Party founder Jeremy Acton said he believed the bill used “criminal logic and prosecutorial methods” to regulate cannabis with a “clear intent of criminalising people”.
“The bill intends to severely limit people’s access to the known benefits of the cannabis plant and the consideration of trafficable quantities for which a person can be prosecuted even if they are not trafficking,” he told the committee on Tuesday.
“The bill makes unsubstantiated claims that cannabis imposes harm on society and does not acknowledge that policing and prosecution as a form of regulation in the past and in the future is malicious and costly to individuals of the state.”
Acton said it was wrong for Justice Minister Ronald Lamola to be the sole figure who had powers to regulate the bill, saying he believed the matter should be handled by relevant departments, such as trade and industry as well as agriculture.
“The bill unjustifiably gives the minister of justice the presumption that he may regulate and monitor cannabis use in relation to the cultural and religious use and this is a further attempt to control realms of decisioning in society that are generally protected from state interference by the bill of rights.”
Watch the meeting below:
‘Abuse people’s rights’
Furthermore, Acton said the proposed legislation will enable the further development of a police state.
“The bill will promote the misuse of police informants, destroy people’s rights to privacy, enable home raids to count plants to determine compliance and generally abuse the rights of people of South Africa.”
He also said the bill was also being used to enable the THC testing of motorists.
“The bill aims to criminalise a person before they even commit any driving error and breaking the rules of the road based simply on a person’s use of cannabis as a measure of unfair discrimination. Such testing is not supported by any accident statistics that cannabis is a cause of road safety issues and the state is not able to show the need of such testing.
“The bill makes the South African Police [Service] the agency of enforcement of the law [despite] the widely justified public perception of being the corrupt government agency in the nation and its widely reported in the press of being infiltrated by criminal gangs.”
Acton even called the legislation “fascist”.
“The bill will cause harm to South Africans and the nation. Real people are going to get really hurt if this bill is passed. The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill is a declaration of war… [it is] a fascist, totalitarian, authoritarian drug war Mach 2 upon the cannabis plant and the dagga culture of South Africa.”
Acton added that the committee failed to consider the input of civil society when the bill was being drafted.
“It has not done it’s job and must therefore completely revise the bill.”
He warned that any party or MP that voted in support of the bill in the National Assembly would be in contempt of court, as would the president if he signs the legislation into law.
Read the bill below:
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) welcomed the proposed amendments, but raised concern about some of the sections in the bill.
Cosatu’s parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks told the committee that some parts of the legislation seemed to reflect “a level of contradictory positions” between different departments in government on whether cannabis and its use should be legalised.
“It seeks to legalise the use of cannabis, yet it places significant restrictions in that regard,” he said.
Among others, the penalties section was one of the areas of concern.
“The bill has provided for reduced penalties for various offences and this is welcome. However, again this contradicts the directive of the Constitutional Court directive to legalise cannabis and government’s own efforts to nurture and cultivate the hemp industry.
“Reducing a penalty from six to three years is welcome, but nonetheless is still going to serve as a serious discouragement for those seeking to legally enter the industry,” Parks continued.
Cosatu, said Parks, was also worried that the bill won’t be passed in time to meet the timeframes of the ConCourt order, with Parliament’s constituency set to kick in from 15 June until 29 August.
“If time allows for further revisions to address the weaknesses and contradictions in the bill, Cosatu would urge Parliament to do so. However, if this window of opportunity has passed and the passage of the bill will be placed at risk of not happening before the end of the 6th Parliament, the federation would then urge Parliament to simply pass the bill.”
The Cannabis Traders Association Africa (CTAA) also made its own presentation and pointed out that the limit on the growing of cannabis for personal use to four plants countered undermines the right to privacy.
“An individual wishing to cultivate more than four plants will be guilty of having committed an offence under the bill,” CTAA chairperson Tebogo Tlhopane told the committee.
“The bill contradicts the Constitutional Court’s ruling that guarantees the right to privacy for personal use and growing of cannabis. The fear is that the police will have the power to come to people’s homes and count plants which at the end of the day would not be practically possible to do.
“It’s gonna put undue burden on the police resources if the bill stands as it is and that will obviously be a clear violation of an individual’s right to privacy and autonomy,” Tlhopane said.
The bill will head to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) once the committee finishes drafting the legislation before it is sent to Ramaphosa for approval.