Max Ozinsky, South African citizen
Max Ozinsky was a member of the ANC underground, served as an MEC and chief whip in the Western Cape legislature and understands the processes of Government. Cannabiz Africa publishes a full transcript of his presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on 25 May 2023, as as he is an insider who hits to the heart of the debate: the Justice Department is obstacle No 1, and what adds to the confusion is that the ANC does not have a policy document on cannabis.
Good morning, Chairperson and Members of the Committee, thank you for allowing me to present this morning.
I just want to introduce myself quickly, Chairperson.
In 1983, when I was 20 years old, I was arrested and found guilty of possessing cannabis illegally and sentenced under the Medicines Control Act. I received then, after I was found guilty, a sentence of 60 days or a R60 fine, which was a lot of money in those days as you can understand.
Subsequently, and at that time, I was a political activist. I worked in the mass movement, in the underground. I was as a commander of MK. I later became a member of the ruling party in the Western Cape as a member of the Western Cape public legislature and as Chief Whip. I was a public servant and spent two years as an acting DG.
Chair, as I’ve said in my presentation, Government is very negligent in the way it is bringing forward this bill, in the way that it is responding to the Constitutional Court judgement, and the way it is now bringing other irrelevant issues into the Bill.
People continue to be arrested for their legally granted right to possess cannabis. The Committee may be interested to know that in March this year a Rastafarian died during a police raid on his residence. And on 21 March, Human Rights Day, there was a march to George police station by the Rastafari community about that issue.
And that’s the seriousness that the Committee, Government, Parliament needs to take on this matter, and I must say, I don’t see it.
As someone who understands the processes of Parliament and Government, I don’t see it, I don’t see that seriousness.
I want to start by saying a large part of the problem is the Department of Justice itself, and I am glad they are here today to see that. The problem for me, Chair, is that the Department of Justice behaves as if we are in the apartheid South Africa and there should be a continuation of those policies of apartheid South Africa with regard to cannabis.
So, when the court case ended up in the Constitutional Court in 2018, that case was opposed by the Department of Justice, from the Magistrates Court, to the High Court in the Western Cape, to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, all the way to the Constitutional Court - which then gave judgement against the Department of Justice. Yet we sit here today, and it’s the same Department of Justice that is providing you with drafts and advice on how to move forward, and there’s no indication they’ve taken that judgement into account.
Let me give you a very simple example of that which is on the issue of the amount of cannabis that a person can possess in private. This issue is raised by all the people who are commenting on the proposed Bill.
It is clearly unconstitutional to set a limit on the amount for personal use because the Constitutional Court has already found on that matter yet the Department presents you with a bill which wants to set a limit on the amount of plants, on the amount of cannabis people can possess, when the Court has already decided on that matter, Chairperson.
So when you hear the Constitutional Court judgement in itself, let me give you an idea of that....in Paragraph 111 of the judgement, on page 60, the Chief Justice says ‘I think that the references to cannabis for personal use or for personal consumption, helped to ensure that we did not have to specify the amount or quantity of cannabis that may be possessed. We only need to say that the amount to be possessed is for personal consumption’.
So, there, Chair, the Court has said very clearly to everyone, to the Department, to the Committee, that there is no need to set a limit on the amount that can be posessed.
And yet you have before you a Bill with amounts and limits being set.
The way I see it, with my experience, the way it’s going to go is that the Department of Justice is setting up the Committee and Government, for endless court cases on this matter which we know you will lose. Yet the Department refuses to change its view on this matter and many other unconstitutional things before you. That’s the one example I want to give.
But I think we can honestly say that, in what’s before you, the Department does not accept that people have a right to private use, and does not accept that there will ever be the sale of ganja in South Africa, of marijuana in South Africa, of cannabis in South Africa, and that I think is at the heart of the problem the Committee is sitting with.
So, Chair, when it comes to the issue of hemp, as others have said, it has no relevance in this matter, because to legislate on the issue of private use, there’s no need to distinguish between different hemp varieties, different cannabis varieties because people have the constitutional right to possess and use it for private use. So then why are you putting other limits on their constitutional rights in a Bill?
Chair, I would say, with my experience in politics, and my experience in Government, and my experience as a citizen whose constitutional right is continuously being violated, my right to the private use of cannabis, I would say to you, what is happening here, is that the Department of Justice is raising the hemp issue to further delay the Bill, to further confuse the matter, and further create problems for the Government, once the Bill is legislated, because they are creating the basis for continual constitutional challenge to what is in front of you.
Chair, I would say to the Committee, the Department and Government need to get serious.
At this stage, four and a half years after the Constitutional Court judgement in September 2018, we still don’t see from the ruling party, a policy on cannabis or hemp or any other the matter you are dealing with.
There is no policy. At the conference of the ruling party, it was not discussed. In the policy documents of the ruling party there is not even a mention of cannabis. Yet millions of people use cannabis every month in South Africa, and most of them are breaking the law when using cannabis and open themselves up to jail and other police actions.
So that’s the first point….
Chairperson Bulelani Mangwanashe : ‘You have two minutes remaining’
Thank you, Chairperson, I’m rounding up. Maybe what I should ask the Committee is that the because the Committee has oversight over Government itself, that maybe that Government should have a policy on cannabis use.
For instance, there’s no white paper on cannabis, there’s no green paper, there’s no co-ordination between Government departments on this matter, because we know that other Government departments and even provinces, are talking about other things with regard to cannabis, but the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Trade and Industry give no indication to us that there is any cohesion, that there’s any one document they agree on, and when the point to their processes, processes that have taken more than four years, and there is no conclusion on those processes.
So, Chair, my appeal to you and the Committee, which only has about a year left as a committee, is to conclude this matter, it is to send the Bill back, remove all the references to hemp, to instruct the Department of Justice to read the Constitutional Court judgement and then to take the essential points of the judgement into the Bill, which would the be a very simple Bill.
My very last point, Chairperson, is that the elephant hanging in the room is the issue of the sale of cannabis. There’s a huge illegal market in South Africa that has existed for 100 years, if not more.
There are millions of South Africans buying and selling cannabis every month. According to Parliament that is illegal and you need to start moving very quickly to stop making us criminals by dealing with that elephant in the room.
And I can assure you, by my mind, the only way forward is to deal with cannabis in the same way that you deal with cigarettes.
Otherwise, the market that has persisted for so long will persist longer than when the ruling party is no longer there.
Thank you, Chairperson, for the opportunity to present today.