OWN CORRESPONDENT, Johannesburg | Friday
A RASTAFARIAN, who has been banned from practicing law in South Africa because he smokes marijuana, is leading the fight to have the drug legalised for religious purposes in the country’s highest court.
Gareth Prince, who has fought several court battles to be allowed to practice law, told the Constitutional Court the criminalisation of dagga, as it is generally known in South Africa, infringed on Rastafarians' right to religious and personal freedom.
Prince said the ban also infringed on Rastafarians' bodily integrity and right to choose a profession.
Dressed in a suit with his dreadlocks hidden under a cap, he reminded the court that religious freedom was one of the most fundamental rights enshrined in the country's bill of rights.
His lawyer John Abel argued that the drug was an integral part of the religion, which originated in Jamaica, and was used by rastafarians to "merge with the Maker."
Abel argued that the state should make an exception for Rastafarians in the same way it allowed fabric manufacturers to grow hemp and some doctors to prescribe cannabis for medicinal use.
Johan Slabbert, a laywer for the Western Cape prosecuting authorities, who oppose Prince's application, countered that this would be abused by drug-smoking gangsters who would queue to join Rastafarian communities at a pace that would "make your head spin."
But Judge Johann Kriegler commented that decriminalising the drug "may end up with you having a lot of courts free to deal with criminals."
Slabbert then claimed that Rastafarian children might be affected by passively smoking the drug, but Judge Albie Sachs asked whether this would be more damaging to a child than seeing his parent going to jail for their religious beliefs.
The judges reserved judgement, but said it may not be possible to decide the matter because they had received too little detail on when and how Rastafarians used dagga.
Constitutional Court President Arthur Chaskalson proposed that the court grant Abel leave to revisit the matter via direct access to the Constitutional Court, if it was found that more evidence was needed.
The Cape Town High Court had earlier dismissed Prince's application, citing the dangers of drugs. Its finding was upheld by the Appeal Court. - AFP
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