Legalizing cannabis will lead to a rise in substance abuses and put state resources under a lot of pressure. That’s the view of state law advisor Sarel Robbertse, who says although the regulations proposed in the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill will give some measure of control, it still imposes harsh penalties on transgressors which are punitive.
State Law Advisor Robbertse: Legalization will be a stress on state resources
The Bill simultaneously legalizes private consumption but criminalizes smoking cannabis in public or selling it, and sets limits on how much dried dagga individuals may own for private use. In its current form the draft law allows homes to have stashes of 1.2kg — as long as there are at least two adults in a household. The Bill set a maximum jail term of 15 years for anyone who deals in cannabis, or provides it to a child.
Legalization will have cost implications for the state
“The legalization of cannabis will give rise to substantial abuse of the substance, and this will put stress on the current measures in South African law. It will also have substantial cost implications for the state” Robbertse told South Africa’s first Addiction Conference on 22 July 2021. The three-day online addiction conference, organised by the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca), discussed drug use policies and legislation, perceptions of drug users, management of addiction disorders, and the role of communities in addiction recovery.
“And the question has been raised whether there’s no other more appropriate measures that can be used in SA to control cannabis. And knowledgeable people frequently made reference to the initiatives of other countries,” he said.
- a rise in availability of the drug and
- a lot more consumption, with the result that courts and prisons being overburdened by drug possession and consumption offences, a conduct that took state resources away from investigating more serious crimes.
“According to these countries the current drug initiative actually benefits criminal profiteers. They also refer to the fact that cannabis is merely a soft drug and that there should not be harsh control measures of the international drug control regime.”
Robbertse says some merit in proposed legislation
Robbertse told delegates that the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill may be beneficial, however, as:
- it will provide reliable statistics on the use of the drug,
- control cannabis use by the vulnerable groups, and
- help the government to implement appropriate responses to harms associated with cannabis use
But he warned illegalizing marijuana would put the state under enormous pressure.
Sue Thau, a US public policy consultant for Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America said legalizing and commercialising cannabis had unintended consequences, and one such challenge was an increase in addiction of the population, which she said was becoming unmanageable in some parts of the US.
“It’s really getting out of control, and there are unintended consequences for legalization. I guess my thing would say be careful in the context between decriminalisation and legalization,” she said.
US addictions expert Thau: Beware the unintended consequences of legalization
Social Development Dept: stay away from cannabis even if it’s legalized
Advocate Luyanda Mtshotshisa, a legislative specialist within the Social Development Department, said while government had different approaches to substance use, social development had zero tolerance for all substances, legal or not, including alcohol and cigarettes, as there is high risk of such substances being abused.
“The approach that we have adopted as social development is that whether cannabis is legal or illegal, for us we maintain our position that everyone must stay away from the use of a substance because it leads to abuse, and from abuse it leads to something else.
“One glass of alcohol leads to drunkenness and drunkenness leads to domestic violence, which leads to pressure on the services of social development. The (legalization of cannabis) means that we need to beef up our prevention mechanisms. Cannabis will be no different from other socially and legally accepted substances.”