Marijuana

South Africa Goes Halfway on Pot

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Johannesburg's worst-kept secret looks like any other suburban bar, with a bartender who has nothing unusual to offer. Then someone emerges from the back to present the "other menu." There, marijuana—or "dagga," in Afrikaans slang—is listed alongside beer and cider. Customers in business suits hand over a few hundred rand, choose from the selection of strains and edibles, and relax. Shortly thereafter, a "special" rainbow rice crispy treat shows up unceremoniously, wrapped in colorful plastic like a convenience store snack. Clouds of smoke drift over the pool tables. Bob Marley plays from the jukebox. Everything appears safe, casual, and aboveboard.

But the Amsterdam vibes are deceiving. Johannesburg's funky new drug scene actually exists in a precarious legal gray zone.

Despite reports last year that South Africa's Constitutional Court had decriminalized marijuana, that ruling only protects adults who "use or cultivate or possess cannabis in private for [their] personal consumption." Selling weed or consuming it in public remains illegal. And just as in the U.S. and elsewhere, partial decriminalization tends to benefit some groups of people more than others.

"The bottom line is: If you're growing cannabis out of sight and out of smell, then there is no problem," says Julian Stobbs, 59, the director of social activism for the marijuana legalization nonprofit Fields of Green for All. "But that excludes anyone who doesn't have land or privacy. What if you're in a fourth-floor flat? What if you don't have a backyard? What if you're living in a township with six other families?"

Stobbs points out that the new ruling is least likely to benefit black South Africans. Although they make up 79 percent of the population, they directly own just 1.2 percent of rural land and 7 percent of formally registered property in towns and cities. Complying with the law essentially requires being a property owner, and most black South Africans are tenants.

Johannesburg's libertarian mayor, Herman Mashaba, is a businessman and self-described "capitalist crusader." As former chairman of the Free Market Foundation, Mashaba might seem a likely candidate to focus on the business potential of full legalization—but there's a catch. To win leadership of South Africa's largest city, he had to form a tense coalition between his party, the Democratic Alliance (D.A.), and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), an "anti-capitalist" party that has called for a ban on liquor advertising and announced its desire to make provinces under its jurisdiction "drug-free." So when Mashaba talks about drugs, he rides the fence.

"The D.A. believes the [2018 Constitutional Court] judgment will go a long way in unclogging the criminal justice system, which is often overburdened with cases of persons found in possession of or consuming cannabis in their personal capacity," he says. "We are, however, concerned that the public is not adequately educated on the implications of the judgment and that people do not recognize that the possession and/or consumption of cannabis in public remains a criminal offense."

There's more bad news: While South Africa's pro-cannabis Dagga Party raised enough money to participate in the May 2019 national elections, it missed the deadline to transfer funds due to a bank error and will not be on the ballot.

"We failed (so far) as a movement to become active in political discourse within the precincts that determine policy direction and decision-making for South Africa's future," wrote leader Jeremy Acton in a statement on the Dagga Party's website. "Let's make a promise to ourselves that we are walking together towards a South Africa that WILL give the Cannabis resource to the future of our Children."

NEXT: Brickbat: Money for Nothing

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  1. “And just as in the U.S. and elsewhere, partial decriminalization tends to benefit some groups of people more than others.”

    Everything one can think of tends to benefit some groups of people more than others.

    Life’s not fair. Get over it.

    1. I know. It’s like their trying to get minorities on board with legalization by saying that drug laws are racist.
      Jillian Keenan says this: “Stobbs points out that the new ruling is least likely to benefit black South Africans. Although they make up 79 percent of the population, they directly own just 1.2 percent of rural land and 7 percent of formally registered property in towns and cities.”

      This is just the kind of crap I would expect libertarians to avoid. Why not just talk about the real reason it should be legal rather than irrelevant side issues that don’t actually matter.

      1. Also no explanation why they can’t grow it in apartments with lights, which is how it’s usually done in cities illegally anyway, but there it’d have the advantage of being legal.

        Anyway, any opinions on the libertarian party political coalition with the anti-liquor, anti-drug party? Presumably that means it’d’ve been a worse deal with other parties — that if you have to decide what freedoms to trade away, Johannesburgers found intoxicants the lowest price, to gain the other freedoms.

    2. I think inequality under the law is something we should try to avoid. Economic outcomes are uneven, and that’s fine because a rising tide lifts almost all of the ships.

      But we should try to make the law a level playing field. It might be impossible to get there, but we should always be striving for it. To blow off that ideal under a “life’s not fair” kind of attitude is short-sighted.

      1. Equality under the law does not mean that economic outcomes or anything else been racial lines will even out. Even with a fair playing field, it is quite possible, even highly probable, that certain groups of people will underperform compared with others in certain categories.

        No I’m not racist. I’m only suggesting that people have different tendencies and abilities and that these differences do often fall along racial lines.

        1. Equality under the law does not mean that economic outcomes or anything else been racial lines will even out.

          I agree in general. I’d even to so far as to say economic outcomes will NEVER be even. But, I think if the law places exceptional disadvantages on certain people of a particular economic class, we should take a look at revising that law. Kind of how drug prohibition disproportionately impacts poor people but has virtually no long-term detrimental impact on the rich. (Kamala Harris can joke about smoking MJ while running for President even though her office has ruined how many lives for possession of MJ?)

          1. True, Kamala Harris is a spineless hypocrite, but before presuming laws to be slanted against certain people, we should consider where the unequal treatment actually exists.

            1. I’m not following you, can you please elaborate?

  2. Just legalize it already!

    It appears I can only post one link per post.

    Replace the (dot) with .

    books(dot)google(dot)com/ngrams/graph?content=drug+addict&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cdrug%20addict%3B%2Cc0

    And legalize them all!

    http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/history/soldis.htm

    Thanks.

    1. Jesus christ man the squirrels can see you.

  3. I honestly don’t understand Reason’s priorities when it comes to international news they choose to cover

    1. Does it have to do with pot or sex? Expect extensive coverage.

      Does it have to do with immigration or international political figures demonizing Trump? Expect 3 paragraph articles compiled from various sentences found on twitter.

  4. South Africa goes halfway to pot, you say?

  5. was expecting whites only or something.

  6. They just happened to miss the deadline? Yup, that’s dagga…

  7. Since South Africa is apparently heading down the Post Colonial Toilet, with black racism condoning attacks on longstanding white residents, I don’t really think theirs is an example we want to tie ourselves to.

    1. No, no, they’re following OUR example.

      1. Going to shit after giving up white rule? Technically they got there on that one first! Which is why they’re worse off. SA is the USA in another couple decades. SA shows how ridiculous revenge politics can get, and also how affirmative action is a HORRIBLE idea, including for the supposed oppressed people. Everything in SA is falling apart because they have quotas that keep skilled white, Indian, and other minorities with qualifications from working in their field, sometimes for years on end, and instead put in unqualified people just because they’re black.

        Whatevs. I can always run off to Japan if the USA gets as bad as SA someday!

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