Reality and politics are like strangers suspicious of each other on a dark street. Dr Keith Scott tried to introduce these two strangers to each other. The chairman of the South African Drug Policy Initiative, (SADPI) gave MP’s a lesson in reality and drugs.
Dr Scott: which is more harmful? Alcohol or cannabis?
“It’s not complicated” he said, effectively calling for full legalization of adult-use cannabis and the trade therein.
Dr Scott presented the SADPI’s comments on the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill to the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on 2 September 2021 saying there was an urgent need to overhaul existing legislation.
Current cannabis laws were “draconian” and based on “misplaced moralism, racism and political expediency”. He said these laws had distorted the cannabis debate and urged MP’s to try and view cannabis from a time before it was banned and appealed for them to go beyond a “punitive perspective”.
He took the committee on a mental “reality” exercise and asked them to consider which substance was more harmful on scientific evidence to date:
Alcohol: Associated with 50 fatal diseases and is the leading cause of death in half of them; association with violent behaviour;
Cannabis: No recorded deaths in the world; can cause psychosis and catatonia which are reversable; little evidence that it causes violent behaviour – in fact it is seen more as a sedative; the claims about it causing schizophrenia are unfounded, although use may lead to early onset of the condition in latent schizophrenics.
“I hope the honourable members will realize that if we had to choose which one of the above to ban, which would be the obvious one”.
Dr Scott’s reality excercise for politicians
Dr Scott said the reality was that cannabis had been demonized. It should be treated in the same way as alcohol, and “if the two were put in the same basket, there’d be no problem”. He did concede to a question by DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach that this was not the case in spot-checking. If police found traces of THC in a driver, it could have been there for days and did not necessarily mean the driver was impaired, which was not the case with alcohol.
Dr Scott said he wanted to make it clear he did not condone the use of cannabis by children and said they had to be protected as in the case of other health-affecting products, but the reality is that “when you ban something popular, you just drive it underground”.
He said in the SADPI’s experience, locally and internationally, the following 5 realities should be taken into consideration before formulating any law:
Reality # 1: The desire to use mind-altering substances is in our genes and has been associated with creativity in society throughout the ages; this is not going to be changed through legislation.
Reality # 2: First time drug takers do so out of curiousity or peer pressure and 80% never repeat the experience;
Reality # 3: Most people who consume cannabis or alcohol do not do so problematically;
Reality # 4: Cannabis is basically the same as the alcohol trade; a portion of the population will want to be supplied forever;
Reality # 5: The voluntary use of any banned drug is a victimless crime, and the sale or trade of cannabis cannot therefore be considered truly criminal.
Dr Scott said SAPDI, who’s members were all professionals drawn from a variety of vocations, believed that cannabis should be legalized. “The use and trade of cannabis should be fully legalized. Cannabis laws as they are now do more harm than good and the failure to legalize will lead to the continued criminalization of innocent people and prevent commercialization”.