Cannabis users protest against ‘discriminatory law’

By Jade McClune

THE governor of Erongo region said that he has no means or mandate to alter the law on cannabis, but he pledged last week to take the matter up with the Head of State over the Easter weekend. 

Following a lively march and protest by devout cannabis users and activists last Thursday, Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua told the around 60 protesters who had marched from the DRC settlement to the Office of the Governor in Tamariskia to hand over a petition calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis use for medical, recreation, and industrial uses that the matter was not in his hands as he is merely an appointee and representative of the Head of State in the region, and not a lawmaker as such. 

The coastal region had been rocked in recent months by a series of arrests of cannabis users and growers that were widely considered to be petty crimes, to the extent that the spate of arrests sparked a widespread public de- bate over the merits and disadvantages of cannabis use, a long unresolved issue which has led to the incarceration of thousands of otherwise harmless users over the years. 

In their petition, the proponents of cannabis legalization argued that it was a discriminatory law imposed on Namibia by the racist colonial South African regime with the intent of criminalising the cultural practices of black people, and that the highest courts in South Africa had al- ready found the law in question to be in violation of fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to privacy. Hence, South Africans can now use cannabis for private medical and recreational purposes without fear of prosecution or the associated stigma. 

The question of the right to access safe and affordable medicine – particularly in the case of people afflicted by severe illnesses such as epilepsy, or neurological degenerative disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s, as well as cancer patients – was brought to the fore recently after a 57-year-old woman was arrested at Kramersdorf for the medicinal use of cannabis. 

Following the high-profile ar- rest in February of Cheryl Green, who grew cannabis in her yard and produced oil from it to treat her partner’s illness, the question of medical ethics have also come to the fore, given that many people who are opposed to the use of cannabis as a recreational drug, nevertheless support its medical applications. 

Many people have come out publicly in support of Green and the right to make medicine for her partner, and were outraged by the court’s reluctance to grant bail in the first instance. Her bail of N$5,000 was also significantly higher than the N$2,000 bail offered to a murder suspect recently. 

A number of subsequent arrests of cannabis growers at the coast has sparked alarm in the general public, who consider it a waste of police resources and court time, when law enforcement agencies are already so overstretched that murder suspects have been able to escape from police custody on the regular, while a pile of serious 

cases remain unsolved.
The costs to the State of enforcing an irrational law are thus astronomical, argued the supporters of legalization. They pointed out that the old South African law imposed on Namibia disproportionately affects black people and further deprives many house- holds of breadwinners. 

As a growing body of medical evidence shows the multiple potential medical benefits of cannabis, the question being asked is whether and why the Swapo government is infringing on people’s ability to access safe and affordable medication, by maintaining outdated legislation that has al- ready been found in South Africa to be in violation of constitutional provisions. 

One of the protesters, Ras Egon said in light of the economic downturn in Namibia, which has hit the poorest communities the hardest, cannabis and hemp products also offered a means to a livelihood if they were allowed to cultivate, process and trade in hemp products. Many supporters believe the government is losing out on a huge source of potential tax revenue, and is falling behind the rest of the world in exploiting the industrial and economic potential of the hemp plant. 

Critics of the call to legalize cannabis in Namibia are concerned about the likelihood of drug abuse, particularly among the youth, and the potential negative effects of smoking on public health. Supporters of the herb contend though that alcohol and tobacco are far more dangerous, and yet are legal.
A high-ranking police officer that spoke to Confidente on Thursday said many officers were sympathetic to the cannabis users and in fact support decriminalisation, as it would vastly reduce their workload, cut operational costs and enable them to concentrate on serious crimes, such as murder, rape and robbery. He felt that the use and trade should be regulated though so that it does not become a public nuisance or hazard. 

The broad global trend points towards the decriminalisation of cannabis use for recreational and medicinal purposes as a rational and humane policy option, as in Canada and many parts of the United States of America, where the burden of law enforcement and the costs associated with prosecuting and incarcerating cannabis users has dropped significantly, while tax revenue from the regulated sale of cannabis has augmented federal tax coffers. 

Following the demonstration at his office last week, Governor Mutjavikua told the protesters that he did not want to discuss his own view of the matter as he is a presidential appointee, and not there to represent himself. He would present the petition to President Geingob in person over the past weekend to take up the matter with the appropriate offices.