Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs’ home was raided by South African police in 2010. They were charged with cannabis possession and distribution and faced some choices: plead guilty, pay bribes, or sue the government. They chose the latter, combining their case with Ras Garreth Prince, a Rastafarian who had been denied access to law school because he was a cannabis user. Defying government opposition, South Africa’s highest court ruled in their favor in September 2018 and decriminalized cannabis use and possession in private spaces. While a step forward for the thousands who were arrested daily across the country, the Dagga Couple believe the ruling does not go far enough.
We had the chance to catch up with Clarke and Stobbs after the UN failed to reschedule cannabis last month in Vienna, Austria, and talked to them about legalization in their home country, the efficacy of CBD, the days of humility in the cannabis community, corporate marijuana companies, and the future of global cannabis.
High Times: What is the state of cannabis legalization in South Africa?
Myrtle Clarke: Effectively, de facto decriminalized. The Constitutional Court ordered the government to change the laws. They have two years to change them, but they are now allowing personal use and cultivation in private spaces. But in South Africa, we have a lot of homeless people and lots of people live communally. You can’t always distinguish one person’s home from another. We sued the South African government in 2011 for enacting unlawful laws. Our case is still ongoing because we were arrested and charged with possession and dealing. So we still have those dealing charges because we only got decriminalization and trade is not allowed yet. They have two years to change the laws. We are going to postpone our case and book a date for six months after the deadline. We intend to write the legislation and present the government with it. If they don’t give us what we want, we will strike back in court.
You said you are glad South Africa didn’t go medical?
Julian Stobbs: Medical cannabis does work for some conditions. If it is one of the greatest placebos, that is cool as well. Everybody is going on about CBD. Secretly, I look at CBD from another point of view. If you get CBD in your system you can quickly build a tolerance, and you can’t take more because it doesn’t bind to anything. People are coming off CBD really quickly because it is ineffective over time. But nobody talks about that in here. They’re just trying to get market share. I stay focused on the fact that it’s a human rights issue, not a medical issue.
MC: Lesotho is touted as the first country in Africa to legalize cannabis, but they haven’t. They gave out nine medical licenses to mainly white people from outside Lesotho. There are people still being arrested there despite the medical licenses. I just hope they find the strength to not get stuck in medicine for the next 40 years. I am not sick, I just want to make socks and get high.
I covered an event at the UN event in 1999. Graca Machel (Nelson Mandela’s second wife) got an award from UNICEF. She refused it and gave it to a group of kids from Colombia who held elections and formed their own government.
JS: Ah, the days of being humble. Now you look and see what is happening here. It is award time. Humans respond well to awards, affirmations. These big companies, they’re pitching to get the (FAAAT International Cannabusiness) awards because it makes their stocks go up. They can pump and dump that shit endlessly on Twitter. “We won a competition!” But none of them smoke weed. Most of them wouldn’t know a bong from a blunt if it hit them. But now they’re getting lifetime achievement awards for their…
MC: I know we are talking about sustainable development goals and whatever, but sustainability has to be one of the most overused words in the 21st-century.
The companies are going through sustainability checklists. “I’m sustainable because of my gender thing. We give to epileptic kids. We are ecologically sustainable.”
MC: And I give sandwiches to the homeless.
I still think it’s progress, at least in the pot world.
JS: It is a dialogue that is happening here. For me, being nearly 60, it’s not happening fast enough. We’ve won the intellectual argument. How many studies do you want? Yet, you cannot convince the inconvincible. They made their minds up when they were young white men and now they are fucking old white men and they’re sticking to their paradigm because they don’t know anything else. They’re too scared.
Kids should leave primary school with the ability to grow carrots, opium poppies, coca leaves, cannabis. Kids never have a say at these pot conferences.
MC: My picture on the resources page of our law documents is of a young child carrying a big bushel of cannabis. He is going to go feed the goats. Cannabis is such a fantastic thing to grow. It can teach you about growing plants in so many ways. It is not necessarily about the cannabis. It’s about learning how to reconnect with the Earth, and watching it grow. We always say that the most addictive part about cannabis is growing it.
You were talking about Rastafarians in your presentation.
JS: They have been our allies all along because religious rights in our constitution are sacrosanct. They got through on this religious and cultural ticket, which helped us enormously. It is not my religion or my culture. It might be my tradition because I’ve been doing it for 40 years. Traditionally, I wake up in the morning and I get blazed, but I’m English.
MC: Wherever we go on tour, there are always some Rastas. One community way out in a mining district sold enough ganja to send one of their cleverest guys to the University of the Western Cape to study. He now has a bachelor’s in social development and came back to help the community. It is a little mining town that is dying — empty houses, empty shops. They don’t even grow. They get it from Swaziland and Lesotho or buy it from the brothers up in the mountains and transport it back on public transport. They get arrested all the time. They had a community meeting with their leaders; the head of correctional services, the clinic’s nurse, all the leaders in the town, the youth. We told our story, put up our little shop, sold out of every t-shirt, sticker. When we left they gave us a 2,000 rand ($140) donation for petrol. That is humbling. You don’t even want to take it.
JS: As a ratio of how much they actually have, 2,000 rand is an incredible gift. But we don’t see any of that from the likes of Canopy or Tilray.