As long as there are users of dagga, there will probably be proponents of the view that it should be legalised. While it is not my aim here to further inflame an already volatile area of controversy, I want to use this article to explore some of the issues surrounding the legalisation debate, and hopefully come to some meaningful conclusions.

Let's start with the pros. Those who support legalisation usually try to emphasise the medicinal properties of dagga. It is well known that the plant can be used for pain relief, and also to transport terminally ill patients away from what can be a very depressing situation emotionally. In light of these facts, some governments have declared a small amount of dagga legal where it is to be used for medical reasons. It is impossible to find fault with this approach, since terminally and chronically ill patients should not be denied an obvious source of relief.

As an economic commodity, dagga has a socio-economic presence, and the advocates of legalisation are not silent on this point either. They claim that by legalising the drug, supply will become regulated, and the price will decrease, because dagga will no longer be a black market product. This decrease in price will (apparently) eliminate the illegal operators who are presently controlling the industry. Dagga will become as commonplace as cigarettes or alcohol, and, of course, everyone will always stick to the age restriction on its sale, no-one will ever stockpile dagga in their home, and no-one will become addicted to it.

You'd be excused if you thought it sounds a little utopian. Can we really assume that making the product legal will get rid of the criminal syndicates who control the supply of that product? Let's look at other examples. Cigarettes have always been legal, but the cigarette industry is plagued by rogue operators who manufacture fake cigarettes and export them. Then there are those patently fake but impressively realistic replica watches. Or fake shoes. Or fake handbags. You get the point. Legalising a product, any product, doesn't necessarily prevent crime involving that product. Saying that it does is just a little too simplistic. And given the fact that there are long established trading networks in the dagga industry, how can we be so sure that those networks will simply disband once dagga is legalised?

Why would they? Legalisation will hurt their profit margin, and when drug dealers perceive that their profits are suffering, they resort to violence. This is a common experience all over the world. Dealers fight with each other, using violence, to secure a share of the market. Even if dagga was legalised, the potential revenues would be enormous. Do we honestly believe that people who are accustomed to carrying guns and dodging the police will suddenly start behaving like Public Friend No. 1? As legalised production cuts into revenue, it is far more likely that the drug wars we are seeing now will look like a Sunday school picnic compared to what could happen. In an industry that traditionally involves violence, manipulation, and illegal activities (which is the side of drugs that legalisation advocates seem unwilling to talk about), how can we expect people to change overnight or suddenly take up other occupations? How realistic is that?

I started this article by saying that I'm trying to explore some of the issues at play here. But I think the overarching concern has to be with the behaviour of the general public. If we consider that many people in South Africa struggle with alcoholism and other addictions, and that many crimes are due to substance abuse, I cannot see how the introduction of cheap, high quality dagga into the retail sector is going to improve anything. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes to minors isn't even being policed properly. We may soon have many young kids missing school because they're stoned. In fact, this is already happening. Why would we want to exacerbate the problem? Let's not even start talking about driving while intoxicated.

We cannot assume that everyone will act responsibly at all times. Not everyone will use dagga on an absolutely recreational basis. Stories offered by legalisation advocates that they only use dagga once a week or twice a month ring hollow in light of actual experiences on the streets. There are many people who smoke dagga every day, sometimes several joints a day. These people are addicted (yes, it is possible to become addicted to dagga). Making their drug of choice cheaper won't help them. And then it's the taxpayer who has to foot the bill for their medical and social welfare costs when they become ill or unemployed due to their addict's lifestyle. But legalisation advocates do not seem to want to raise this issue. According to them, dagga isn't addictive at all, so there's nothing to worry about, which is, if you ask me, a rather facetious assertion.

Ultimately, I think it's a little optimistic to assume that everyone will always act responsibly. People don't. That's a fact. And I am not convinced that the criminal elements inherent in the supply of any addictive substance will simply evaporate overnight, like smoke on the wind. Legalising dagga would actually be a socio-economic experiment. No-one can guarantee the outcome, and so, while this article is by no means a comprehensive discussion of the issue, I am left wondering whether it would really be such a good idea to legalise dagga for non-medicinal purposes.

Author's Bio: 

Admissions are accepted 7 days a week.
For admission bookings and tariffs please call +27 (0)21 790 7779