Legalise it, don’t criticise it, said late legendary reggae musician and human rights activist Peter McIntosh in his acclaimed song ‘Legalise It’. Tosh was referring to marijuana, the controversial herbal substance mostly smoked. In South Africa you may know it as weed, ganja, zol or Durban poison among others.
As prevalent as the plant is in South Africa, it is still an illegal substance. There are many movements globally advocating the legalisation of marijuana and in the USA several states have succumbed to the pressure, but are using the legalisation as a means to collect millions in tax revenue – a win / win for them.
Though our government is considering a possibility of legalising marijuana, which was officially prohibited in South Africa in 1908, there is a lot of resistance from anti-drug movements and the society in general. The question is does the resistance come from substantiated, independent studies or is it legacy?
The latest talks have been around legalisation for recreational as well as medicinal use – which all activists believe is the only positive outcome. The research being conducted globally around the benefits of medical marijuana is too vast a collection to now ignore and simply fall back on outdated laws and prohibition based on oppression. (Read this research piece for more insight on that last statement: https://goo.gl/UvlW3u )
Mxolisi “Rastaman” Ndlovu, a self-proclaimed marijuana activist based in Tembisa outside of Midrand said it was high time that the “International Herb” was legalized and users not bothered by the police and purists. “We have a herb, a plant that has been known formally and not, to heal when taken orally, drunk as tea or burnt for incense when there’s something troubling your peace at your home, but it’s regarded as prohibited and it use a crime,” said Ndlovu, a 38 year old father to two. Ndlovu, of half Zimbabwean and half Zulu roots, says he’s been smoking consistently since the age of 18 and says that he’s never smoked cigarettes in his life and he feels as strong, healthy and fit as an athlete.
In South Africa however, some believe that if we legalize marijuana it will be a problem in our already economically fragmented society. Marijuana use is often seen as a gateway drug used experimentally by the youth encouraging them to move onto harder more dangerous drugs. In wealthy society this would be drugs like ecstasy, heroin and cocaine, while in poorer communities nyaope and ‘cat’ become the drugs of preference.
Stanly Tosh Relethlaga, a former marijuana addict who today gives talks in rural and township schools in and around Tembisa said that though he used to smoke weed he doesn’t think that South Africa was ready to legalize it as it is already “torturing our communities”.
“Our communities, especially the previously disadvantaged spaces like townships and rural areas have been hard dealt by the excessive and abusive usage of marijuana with especially young and unemployed youths tormenting their own communities by stealing to sponsor this habit,” said Relethlaga.
But those like Ndlovu who are for the legalization of marijuana are always at pains to mention the “benefits” of marijuana. “Alcohol causes way more damage to our communities than dagga,” he said, saying adding cigarettes were known scientifically to be more dangerous and fatal than marijuana, which has been used for ages as a medicinal herb and not just a recreational substance.
“You are more likely to die as a result of smoking cigarettes than you are when you responsibly use marijuana,” he said.
So, what are these “benefits” of marijuana versus, say, cigarettes as Ndlovu insists?
A study published by the Huffington Post in 2015 found that marijuana was far safer than alcohol, tobacco as well as multiple other illicit substances. In all the 10 substances that the study looked at such as alcohol, tabocco, heroin, ecstacy, methamphetamine, diazepam, amphetamine and methadone, marijuana was listed as less harmful or dangerous. Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/entry/marijuana-safer-than-alcohol-tobacco_n_6738572
Here are some benefits of taking the International herb according to scientific findings:
Makes you lose weight: Research has found that weed is unlikely to make you obese, with many saying it’s largely as a result that most people who smoke pot don’t eat meat. A study in the journal of Obesity found that regular marijuana smokers were less likely to be obese compared to their tobacco takers.
Improves lung function: Smoking weed has been found to be healthier for your lung function than it is for both smokers and non-smokers. The researchers, writing for the American medical Association found that the big drags taken by weed smokers may actually train lungs to be more efficient, the same can’t be said of cigarette smokers.
Can increase creativity: A study in consciousness and Cognition once found that weed smokers were more creative especially in their usage of language. The researchers said at the time, “We investigated the effects of cannabis smoked naturalistically on schizotypy and divergent thinking, a measure of creativity in people and one hundred and sixty cannabis users were tested on 1 day when sober and another day when high with cannabis and we found that cannabis, for the following day of tests, had improved their fluency in speech compared to the previous day when they were sober”. – Source: http://metro.co.uk/2016/03/07/7-really-surprising-health-benefits-from-smoking-cannabis-5738619/
But another advantage and perhaps the most controversial is that using weed can help athletes do better than those who don’t take it. Cannabis is said can stay in one’s system for six months after being taken and that it helps athletes with endurance during performance, something that anti-drug activists have found to be an unfair advantage to them compared to their fellow counterparts. A good example in South Africa of such advantage would be former Bafana Bafana captain and Tottenham Hotspur defender Mbulelo OJ Mabizela who was once suspended for marijuana use after a random urine test found that he had taken marijuana to boost him. He later admitted to it saying he had used it for recreational purpose and not to boost his performances at all.
So, maybe before weed is seen as a danger to society we need to look at its benefits and actually take a stand on whether we need it as a recreational herb or not. With the South African government looking at a possibility of legalizing it for recreational and medicinal use one can say that indeed researchers will have their hands full trying to convince the anti-drug brigade to understand this.