Whether in South Africa or elsewhere, Cannabis prohibition has turned users, growers and traders into criminals in the eyes of the law. Where there is demand for Cannabis, or anything for that matter, there will always be supply, as well as people risking everything to fill this need. It also means that a black market for Cannabis, may sometimes involve more sinister criminal elements, as violence and intimidation is an effective way to keep your competitors in check. Cannabis legalisation was intended to effectively take Cannabis out of the black market, stop arrests to free up resources for more serious crimes, as well as legitimise those who pioneered this industry in the early days.
Unfortunately we know this is not the case, because in countries where Cannabis has been legalised, the black market is still thriving, Cannabis related arrests still occur, and the pioneers are elbowed out the equation. More worrying is when you look deeper into who is being arrested and why. Crime statistics in these “developed” countries show a disproportionate skew towards young black males being arrested for Cannabis related crimes. In fact, NORML, which is a global Cannabis legalisation body, is quoted as saying “African Americans are arrested for violating marijuana possession laws at nearly four times the rates of whites, yet both ethnicities consume marijuana at roughly the same rates.”
We worry this trend will be perpetuated in South Africa, even when Cannabis laws are passed. Besides the right kind of Cannabis laws that will need to be passed, government needs to relook at how police are incentivised to do their job. Just like any employee in a business, a police officer’s performance (which drives salary and promotion prospects), is monitored by Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). Police KPI’s are important in understanding Cannabis arrests because in South Africa, arresting someone for Cannabis counts towards their KPI’s. The key word being “arrested”, not charged.
Arresting a Cannabis user or grower is low hanging fruit for South African police officers, because they meet their KPI targets without having to expose themselves in dangerous and stressful situations where violent crime is involved. South Africa is one of the most violent and socially unequal countries in the world, with organised crime and gang elements proliferating in high-density low income areas. The latest 2020 crime statistics state 58 murders occur every day in South Africa, and this illustrates how police have lost control of our society.
Even though most Cannabis arrests are being thrown out of court, the psychological, social and financial damage to our citizens is irreversible. Drug related statistics form a large part of overall crime statistics, so if those are removed, it may show less police work is being done, and that’s not politically irie.
Part of our lobbying is to #StopTheCops to remove them from the equation entirely. Fear of being arrested and sent to prison is very real, and we know police play to that fear by intimidating as well as soliciting bribes. We would rather have an inspector with a clipboard and pen asking about our Cannabis grow, instead of dozens of armed police officers busting through the door at 2am in the morning.
The reality is that if police continue to harass and detain the Cannabis community, the civil claims will keep mounting up. These civil claims which are laid for wrongful arrests cost the government millions each year, which means YOUR tax money is being thrown into the wind.
Please support our GoFundMe campaign: Remembering Jules – Cannabis Can Help South Africa. One of our goals with the Trial of the Plant 2.0 is to separate police from Cannabis, as we cannot have a flourishing Cannabis industry without this separation. If not, then the black market will continue to operate, efficiently and quietly, side by side with “legal” Cannabis, and South Africa would have wasted this opportunity.