Nearly 2 000 people took to the streets of the city centre on Saturday May 6 to call for the legalisation of marijuana.
And although the march has been an annual one for the past 17 years, this is the first one since the Western Cape High Court, made a landmark ruling last month, declaring that it was an infringement to ban the use of marijuana by adults in private homes.
It has also ruled that
Parliament must change sections of the Drug Trafficking Act, as well as the Medicines Control Act, and it had 24-hours to do so.
However, the state is challenging the ruling on various grounds, saying that the court focused mainly on the right to privacy and rejected the
evidence it presented; the harmful effects of cannabis use, among other things.
Still, the organisers of the march as well as all its supporters felt that they were one step closer to the legalisation of marijuana, and used the march as an opportunity to have their voices heard – and exercise their right to use the substance, even though it is still illegal.
Ramon Gard, who joined the event, said there was more to the march than just smoking marijuana. “Cannabis will help people medically and financially, and you can do all of that while feeling good. We are here so we can free weed.”
Afrehim Konwando said he and his wife, Aaisha, joined the march to celebrate the progress the country had made.
They were happy with the ruling and said there were many people ready to fight the appeal at the Constitutional Court so the state would have its work cut out for it. “We will see at the end of the day what will happen.”
Spinsista Mitzi came dressed up as Alice from Alice in Wonderland, holding a teacup and a sign “Eat me, Drink me”.
He said his neighbour had battled breast cancer. “She went for chemotherapy and they kept having to remove glands, until eventually they removed her breast. The only thing that helped her was to grind marijuana and put it in her tea. So I thought, ‘Why not make some tea?’ So this is Alice in Wonderland – you can eat it or drink it.”
Rastafarian Rowan van Staden said he had marched, as he has done many years before, for a righteous cause. “They say we have freedom, but I don’t have freedom of religion, no liberation and no equal rights. I’m marching for justice for humanity.”
Ronelle Thyssen said she and her family had been marijuana users for years. Her daughter, Keesha, has growth retardation, and marijuana had helped improve her health.
“Keesha couldn’t speak. I took her off the medication she was using and made her cannabis-infused tea, and she eats the seeds. I can see more progress than with the medication. She can now speak.”
She said she thought the state was foolish for appealing the ruling. “Half of the population uses dagga, and not legalising it would make us all criminals. I appeal to the state to listen to society’s plea. The herb is not a drug, it’s simply a plant, and it benefits a lot of people. I would really like them to reconsider their appeal.”
Amanda Rybicki and Declan McFarland brought two giant marijuana cigarettes to march to promote its legalisation for medicinal use.
Ms Rybicki said: I have a chronic pain disorder, and it’s the only thing that helps. I believe it should be legalised for people with chronic illness.” Mr McFarland added: “I have depression and weed helps me. It should be legalised.”
Dagga Party leader Jeremy Acton, who took the case to legalise marijuana to the
Western Cape High Court, spoke to the crowd about the way forward while they continued the fight for legalisation of marijuana.
He said the next two years would be crucial, as that was the period of time given by the High Court for the state to change the drug laws relating to marijuana. “We are doing well so far, but we will need to march into Parliament to smoke all the prohibition out of the place.
“The South African police have stated that they will still arrest people for marijuana possession and usage, but I need you all to keep on fighting the law.”
He said that while this is a fight with the law, the march should be a peaceful one because the fight was not with the police, who were also present at the event.
Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, aka The Dagga Couple, came from Pretoria to attend the march.
The couple made headlines in 2010 after they sued seven government departments for laws relating to the prohibition of the cannabis plant in South Africa. They had been arrested and jailed in that year for dealing in marijuana because they were found with more than 115g of the drug.
They will start the battle in the Pretoria High Court, known as the Trial of the Plant, in August this year for the legalisation of marijuana.
“We are so happy to be here. The war is not over yet, but there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. In August, we will be in the Pretoria High Court to speak about the herb, so please support us and our cause,” said Ms Clarke.
Mr Stobbs said: “We want to show the state that this is not harming us, so they cannot make laws on the grounds that it is harming us.”
He told the cheering crowd that for the next few months, they would be travelling the world to canvas for the legalisation of marijuana in other countries and speak about South Africa’s leading ruling.”
The crowd marched through the city centre, filling half of Long Street behind a truck playing reggae music in a cheerful protest, chanting and smoking marijuana while passers-by watched, clearly amused.