I had my 21st birthday party at a club in Durban. I hired it for the night. It was dangerously cheap. I don’t remember the name. It was down a side street deep in the noxious belly of the beast. It wasn’t one of those clubs with a glitterball. Or staff. Or décor of any kind. There must have been someone in charge, though, otherwise we’d all still be living there.
At around 3am, I’d had enough of being 21 and turned the lights off. My friends took it as a sign to crank up the degeneracy to unprecedented levels. After whatever it was that everyone had to get done in the dark, we left at 4am, cascading down the stairs and into the street.
Waiting to greet us were half a dozen members of the South African Police. They cornered us and demanded to see our hands. I thought maybe they were ‘precogs’, mutants with precognitive abilities who could read our palms and tell if we were going to commit a crime. But this was the plot of Minority Report, a movie that came out years after I had turned 21. It was deeply confusing. Perhaps I was a ‘precog’ gone bad.
The officers took our hands, held them up to their snouts and sniffed. The dogs must have been off for the night. Had I known the evening was going to end like that, I would have done unspeakable things with my hands in the bathroom. When we enquired as to what the hell it was they were doing, they said they were checking if anyone had been smoking dagga. Policing techniques have improved since then. These days, they smell your feet, too.
A few months later I was arrested, charged and convicted for possession of a tiny portion of Durban’s finest. It was at a roadblock in Villiers, a nasty little town that squats sullenly on the N3 somewhere in the fetid bowels of the Free State.
My roll of skinny karchies weighed 4.3 grams. I got six months suspended for four years. First offence. Not much has changed since those days. Our courts and jails are full of people who were caught with a bit of weed on them. Isn’t it time for a change?
America, a nation that believes evolution is a myth and their president is a Muslim fundamentalist from Kenya, is way more progressive than we are. Colorado and now Washington state allow people over the age of 21 to buy up to 30 grams of marijuana a month for recreational use. Alaska, Oregon and the District of Colombia are next.
In Colorado and Washington, it was put to the vote. The people themselves chose to legalise it and tax its use. We don’t have that kind of democracy. Here, the government decides what’s best for us. We can barely be trusted to dress ourselves without supervision.
Although more than 2 600 businesses applied for permits to grow and sell, fewer than 80 licences have been granted. I imagine it takes a while for any stoner to complete a 45-page application without getting distracted or making mistakes.
It’s estimated that in the next year, the Colorado state government will make $117-million dollars in taxes from the sale of cannabis. That’s R1.2-billion rand. South Africa could quadruple it, easily. The Eastern Cape could be turned into a giant plantation. They don’t seem to be doing much else with the land. And it would make driving through Mthatha a little more bearable.
But, no. Here we still have headlines like, “Surfing organisers deny drug allegations”.
My first thought was that the Mr Price Pro contest, held in Ballito a few days ago, was found to be awash in heroin. That the overseas surfers were riding boards made of compressed cocaine. That everyone on the beach was given a free Mr Price T-shirt and a complementary cap of acid.
Instead, an undercover cop, probably dressed like a holidaymaker from Benoni, bought a small bag of weed from a friend of a stallholder at the market on the beach. He was arrested and his stash confiscated. All fifteen hundred bucks worth. I feel so much safer knowing that officers like him are out there. Let’s hope the city gives him a medal.
In the end, we’re the ones who are going to be paying for this harmless dude to spend a few months behind bars. Fighting crime? Please. Three rhinos being poached every day is a crime. E-tolls are a crime. What the ANC’s Thandi Modise did to those animals on her farm is a crime. The civil service is knee-deep in criminals. Communications Minister Faith Muthambi claiming to have “applied her mind” before appointing Hlaudi Motsoeneng as chief operating officer of the SABC borders on the criminal. I doubt she applied much more than her lipstick before making that decision.
C’mon, Mr President. Let’s free up the cops and the courts to deal with real crime.