Trial of the Plant – Day 10 – Global Cannabis Prohibition originated in South Africa

Judge Ranchod cleared out Friday’s issues of the live stream that was broadcast during the tea break when the cameras were supposed to be off. Watch what happened here.

Craig Patterson was called to the stand. Craig is a historian based at Rhodes University in Grahamstown where he is busy completing his Ph.D. In 2009 he submitted a Master of Arts covering the cannabis trade in South Africa. He also lectures which mainly focuses on colonialism.

He explained that as a historian there are various types of information he can rely on like government archives. As years have passed as a historian, he has realised that oral representation can change over years and that is not so reliable.

While archival sources found in government archives are fixed, you still need to read through all the material to draw a conclusion.

“An emphasis on class became an emphasis on race.“ Craig

He further detailed how the World Health Organization used racist psychiatry to try and understand the African psyche. Most convincing factor for Craig was the hypothesis that cannabis evolved from the Tibetan plateau, even though he admitted that he is not a botanist, his historical work helped him trace it. Even though cannabis is not native to Africa, wherever Arab traders traded cannabis, the cannabis name stayed the same, which was a strong indication that the Arabs was in charge of cannabis trade back in the day. While talking about the origins of the word dagga, Craig says that the word dagga is derived from Khoi origins, but the spelling might be actually different.

The safest model back in the day was to keep certain races separate, and this is evident in the way science and laws have been sculpted by colonialist. An account that Robben island was a good place for Native Africans where they can roam around was heard by the court and Craig further explained that Falkenberg was a white only asylum to prevent any racial contact with Native Africans.

Asylums became a space where it was easier to control those that went ‘insane’ and showed signs of a psychosis. It was told that asylums used to enlist dagga as the cause of psychosis for new admissions if they merely admitted to smoking dagga. There was such a racist and derogatory statement in the history books, that Craig didn’t want to read it to the court.

The following quotes were read out by Craig:

Framing the Process of Cannabis Prohibition. The whole problem evolves itself into a consideration of the interaction between the vice and the environment, in a suitable nidus. Leave a raw savage in his primitive state, leading his own life, let him smoke dagga, when and how he pleases, and it will be found that little or no harm will result. But take a young adult native, with his stunted mental powers, place him in abnormal surroundings, educate him beyond his intellectual capacity, give him hard and unnatural work to perform, let him become ambitious to copy the white man, and outshine his fellows. He then realizes the struggle for existence. Now introduce the vices, Alcohol, Dagga, unnatural sexual practices, etc. what is the result? The interactions of environment and vice proves too much for many; and the feebler brains drop out of the fight – shattered and broken.”

This quote, from C.J.G. Bourhill’s thesis The Smoking of Dagga (Indian Hemp) among the Native Races of South Africa, and the Resultant Evils, is meant to be an explanation of the affliction that he terms “dagga insanity”. Bourhill’s study represents the earliest systematic investigation into cannabis use in South Africa, and his research was based on work done at the Pretoria Native Asylum between 1908 and 1912, his personal experience of being in charge of the mental hospital for a year, as well as surveys of the health of many miners in company compounds.

The motivation presented by the Commission is worth quoting at length: Employers have been familiar, for many years, with the evils consequent upon its use by their Indian servants. They, the Medical Officers of Circles, and the Protector of Immigrants have seen many Indians with their strength and manhood wrecked by the pernicious drug. The opinions of those medical officers are on record. They are unanimous in thinking that the smoking of hemp is injurious to the constitution of Indians, and the majority testify to the widespread habit of smoking it.

To its use they attribute unsteadiness in the performance of work, incapacity for exertion, undermining of the nervous power, heart disease, asthma, retention of urine, night blindness and amaurosis, incoherent speech, mental imbecility, hallucinations, suicides, death. Even in the milder cases, an individual under the influence of hemp is listless, his eyes are glassy, suffused, and have a vacant stare, he has no disposition to exert himself, his pulse is soft and weak, he complains of languor and debility. Frequently, men, intoxicated by its fumes, become dangerous and are arrested by the police.

Homicides are committed by men rendered furious by its toxic properties. We ourselves, when visiting an estate in the Umzinto circle whereon Indians were employed, came upon an Indian, an absentee from work, sitting outside a hut, with his dakkha pipe on the ground by his side. He muttered to himself, then yelled, spoke rapidly and incoherently, lapsed into silence, then yelled again, and it was impossible to make him understand anything.

He was, manifestly, in a state of dementia induced by dakkha smoking: he was decidedly dangerous, and the manager was uncertain how to deal with him: finally, the man was left to do as he pleased, the Indians on the estate being afraid to interfere with him, and the Manager knowing that the law provided no punishment for his misconduct. – 5 RIIC (1887),

Download Craig’s Thesis here: Prohibition & Resistance: A Socio-Political Exploration of the Changing Dynamics of the Southern African Cannabis Trade, c. 1850 – the present.

Pieces of this quote were read out at court:

Four doctors mentioned cannabis as a cause of insanity. One was Dr. J Hyslop, Resident Surgeon of a lunatic asylum, whose testimony on the matter was: “I have noticed that some of the Indians have been addicted to the smoking of Indian Hemp, which may have induced a kind of insanity.”

A note by Mr. Saunders, who sat on the Commission, followed his testimony. He said: “The proportion of Indian lunatics in the Asylum to the Indian population in the Colony is exceedingly small, so far as I am able to judge.”

In contrast to the little said on insanity, the report noted that “it renders the Indian Immigrant unfit and unable to perform with satisfaction to the employer, that work for which he was specially brought to this Colony.” Every symptom of a “mild case” of insanity was related either to the effectiveness of the individual in providing labour or was purely descriptive, and the first three conditions which the Commission attributed to cannabis use were “unsteadiness in the performance of work, incapacity for exertion, [and] undermining of the nervous power.”


Minister of Agriculture in Natal (commissioner questions are in italics):

Has the departure from Native customs in beer-drinking parties led to a large indulgence by the younger people in those beer-drinking parties and their getting mixed up in those faction fights?

Decidedly so. In former days, the men only were allowed to gather together and drink beer, but now there are the woman, the girl, and the boy; they all seem to gather together and participate in this beer drinking.

Those beer-drinking parties were really restricted to men?

To the men with “isicocos” on, the “ring” men.

Now any boy may invite himself to a beer drink? Yes

And the women and girls attend too, promiscuously? Yes

You think that that is wrong? Yes, I think that that is wrong.

And in the smoking of hemp weed, the “insangu,” do you not think that this is very much demoralising to the youth of the Natives? Very much indeed; it has been of late years.

That was also an indulgence which was almost entirely restricted to the men? To the adults, yes.

But now any youngster, any boy, indulges? Yes, and women and girls also indulge in it at the present time.

They all use it? They all use it.It is very

It is very demoralising both physically and mentally? Of course, more especially mentally; the great danger is that.

Do you think that restrictions should be brought about in respect of the use of beer by the youths and the girls of the native population, and the use also of this hemp, the “insangu”? I would not restrict it to that extent. Let them have their beer, but not mixing up and holding their big beer-gatherings, neglecting their homes, and all that sort of thing. I would not restrict the beer, because beer to a native who is feeble and old is the same as what a glass of port or any other stimulant might be to a European. I would not like to deprive the Native of his beer; at the same time I would like to put down those beer-gatherings.

And keep the younger people away? And keep the younger people away.

The promiscuous gatherings of this sort have led to a great loss of respect for elders and grown-up people? That is so. The heads of kraals have entirely lost their command.

So you think that the excessive use, or the use at all of this “insangu” by younger people, either boys or girls, unfits them for continuous labour, for effort of any sort, and makes them practically useless? It is bound to. It affects them generally, mentally and otherwise. I have no objection to the elderly men using this hemp stuff, this “insangu”, but I certainly have objection to the women and the girls and the boys using it.

In 1921 the Council of the League of Nations had called for an “Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Opium and Dangerous Drugs,” and it was in 1923 that South Africa wrote to this committee. The letter read as follows:

Pretoria November 28th 1923

With reference to your letter no. 12/A/22951/17217 dated September 6th 1922, on the above subject and to my letter no. 29/8/85 dated December last, forwarding copies of the Regulations promulgated under Proclamation no. 181 of 1922, I have the honour to inform you that, from the point of view of the Union of South Africa, the most important of all the habit-forming drugs is Indian Hemp or ‘Dagga’ and this drug is not included in the International List. It is suggested that the various Governments being parties to the International Opium Convention should be asked to include in their lists of habit-forming drugs the following:

Indian hemp: including the whole or any portion of the plants cannabis indica or cannabis sativa.

Signed, J.C. Van Tyen, for Secretary to the Prime Minister


This quote above clearly shows that the global prohibition of cannabis was initiate by South Africa, even though South Africa wasn’t the first country to bring it up.

In 1935 the Department of Public Health released a statement lambasting various newspaper reports, which had claimed the laws against cannabis were directed at an essentially harmless substance. The Cape Coloured Commission Report of 1937 also vehemently attacked these reporter’s claims. Citing the 1935 statements, the Commission said that cannabis “especially when indulged in simultaneously with alcoholic intoxicants,” brought about a mental state that “makes it a cause of crimes of violence.” The Commission further warned that the “public conscience should be aroused to a realisation of the evils of dagga [and] more active steps should be taken to eradicate its use.”

In 1949 the new National Party government established a commission of enquiry specifically into cannabis. The Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Abuse of Dagga (RICAD) was released in 1952. This extensive report departed from past reports in its dealing with the plant, and established discussions on cannabis for the second half of the twentieth century. The report seems to reflect an attempt to reconcile the deracialised social sciences of the post-war years with the increasingly racialised politics of the newlyestablished apartheid state. As a document of the apartheid government, the commission had a specifically racialised mandate. It sought to examine the use of cannabis by the designated ‘racial’ groups, but showed only tacit acceptance of the racial hierarchy inherent to its addressing of the topic. Thus, the Commission satisfied the ‘new’ approach of the post-war social sciences, while maintaining the racialised approach required by the apartheid government. The Committee consisted of two representatives from the departments of Social Welfare and Justice and Native Affairs respectively, as well as one representative from the police and one from the Department of Health. In addition, representatives from the British protectorates of Basutoland and Swaziland acted in the capacity of “observer and advisor” to the Commission. While revising the language used, the committee developed each of the themes found in previous discussions. But, in the context of the post-war years, did so tacitly. For example, the report contended that

The fact that most dagga offences are discovered when the police make searches and arrests in connection with other offences suggests the association between dagga and crime… where the individual constitution shows anti-social tendencies or aggressiveness, these qualities are accentuated by the drug and may result in crimes, generally crimes of violence

The commission did concede that “dagga is apparently the least dangerous of habit-forming drugs,” even continuing to say:

When used in moderation, as it is apparently used by large numbers of the Natives and when smoked in the traditional manner through water, its effects are not serious; in fact, probably no more deleterious than smoking tobacco.

Still, the commission immediately returned to the former arguments:

Over-indulgence, however, leads to physical, mental and moral deterioration. Physically, the inveterate dagga addict is emaciated and constitutionally weak and incapable of sustained work. He inevitably degenerates morally too.


Whilst it is generally agreed that dagga does not produce any permanent psychotic condition, it does produce very definite moral degeneration.

Referring to dagga use as “the evil” in their report, the Commission retained the argument of moral degeneration, and in so doing showed its tacit acceptance of racial hierarchy and racism. This was particularly reflected in the Report’s discussions of the attitudes toward cannabis use held by different ‘racial groups’.

Under the heading Present Non-European Attitudes Towards Dagga-smoking, the Report dealt with each ‘racial group’ identified by the government. “The Native view that there is nothing reprehensible about dagga-smoking in itself,” it said, “has not been changed by the fact that the law of the white man now forbids the practice.”

In the paragraph that follows the Commission addressed cannabis use in “the Coloured community.” Here, they made their view known by saying “[the ‘Coloured’ community] recognise the habit as a concomitant of poverty, backwardness, dirtiness, crime, unemployment and general lack of respectability.”

This immediately shows (through the use of the term ‘recognise’) that the authors retained the idea of the ‘native’s’ “backwardness,” but that the so-called “Coloured community” was somehow ‘less backward’ by recognising this ‘fact’. Similarly, the Commission said of “Asiatics” that “it is only the poorer classes who take to dagga-smoking and are, in consequence, looked down upon by the others.”

While of “Europeans,” it says, “it is hardly ever practised by persons who are, or wish to be thought, respectable.”

By linking ‘respectability’ with cannabis use, the Commission portrayed “natives,” as unapologetic cannabis users, to be less respectable. And while the “Coloured community” retained a degree of respectability, the presence of use in this segment of society still showed them to be less respectable than “Europeans,” who “hardly ever” used cannabis.

It was not until 1970 that government approached the topic again. It did so because “illicit traffic in dagga seem[ed] to be increasing tremendously” – in other words, the measures proposed by the 1952 report seemed to have had little effect on cannabis trading. In 1970, the Department of Social Welfare and Pensions published a work entitled Drug Dependence and Some of Its Concomitant Aspects in the Republic of South Africa. The first section of the report was entitled The Dagga Problem, which relied heavily on the 1952 report for its findings. Other than providing some updated statistical and medical information, the findings presented in this section of the publication were simply a revision of the older report. It retained the use of Bourhill and his “causal trinity – environment, nidus and vice,” and once again presented the same formulation of these ideas (albeit in a different guise), saying:

Criminal and sexual tendencies which are normally controlled and repressed may… find expression under the influence of dagga. This seems acceptable since it has been proved that all inhibitions are dispelled during dagga-smoking and the true personality emerges. Therefore, a person with tendencies towards murder, theft and other criminal offences would be capable of committing such crimes under the influence of the drug. A further explanation for dagga-smokers’ crimes is their increased susceptibility to suggestion. This may account for the massacres of the Voortrekkers and the Mau-Mau acts of violence.

This final line is in reference to the opening section of Part 1 (The Dagga Problem) where, under the subheading “Various Uses”, it is claimed that cannabis was used by “the Mongol and Chinese hordes since, according to them, it aroused war likeness and courage in the warrior,”90 and that “the Zulus were under the influence of dagga at the time of their assaults on the Voortrekkers. According to police statements, 90 per cent of the Bantu arrested during the Kenya insurrections were also under the influence of dagga.”91 Section Two was entitled The Hippie Cult, and it dealt with the rise in drug, and particularly cannabis, use amongst ‘white’ youths in South Africa. This section also stands as the first attempt to construct an idea of the ‘white’ cannabis user in South Africa. The most obvious point to be made here is the reference to a “cult”, with the presentation of “hippies” as somehow being “drawn into” an antisocial system. In reference to Johannesburg, it was said that:

there are about 300 to 500 persons who answer to the general description of ‘hippie’. Then there are a large number of young people who may be said to be on the fringe of the hippie way of life – perhaps several thousand of them according to observations. They are in constant danger of being drawn in.

While, in seeking a definition of those involved, the report said “hippies” may be described as:

individuals or groups of individuals who have no regular or honest means of livelihood, live in small groups in unsavoury living conditions in disorganised areas of the city, are of untidy and ‘peculiar’ appearance, are in revolt of established modes of behaviour and value systems, and make use of drugs.

In essence, this is a reiteration of the findings of the 1952 report; an agreement that “hippies” were not “persons who are, or wish to be thought, respectable.” But this still does not address the question of why this phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s should be redefined as a “cult,” rather than simply another youth rebellion movement. Upon examination, it appears that the primary motivation for this was that these youths had no reason to be considered ‘unrespectable’, and seemed (to ‘white’ South Africa) to be actively seeking this label.

Craig went on to say that they couldn’t accommodate the white middle class that used drugs, they didn’t fall under the hippie definition. Traditionally, those in impoverished areas sought ways to bring themselves an income, and cannabis was an easier easy way to generate an income.

“We can’t forget something that is illegal now, which wasn’t always illegal” Craig Paterson

“They didn’t need a reason to justify prohibition.”

After lunch, Bokaba opened his interrogating with raising two issues asking if he is still a student at Rhodes and why is it taking him so long to finish his studies. The state wanted to know his particular area of expertise to which Craig replied that it is colonial history and how colonialism applies today.

Adv Bokaba took Craig’s expertise to test when he asked him what his competencies are and what his area of practice is.

“Do you believe your masters thesis makes you an expert?” – State

Craig made it clear that Chapter 3 & 4 in his thesis needs to be excluded in his expert testimony on those are based on oral examination and that over the years there have been new methodologies that can be applied and the conclusion drawn could slightly change with new eyes.

Bokaba took a jab at Craig’s work by saying “you are not an expert in any shape or form”. and went on to state that Craig’s work does not reference any work from black people, having Craig list all the names of the works used in his evidence and making him recall the author’s race…

Craig: “What is the relevance of this?”

State: “Very relevant”

“Off course, people that write about South Africa at the time, was mostly white. To say that black people need to be included is ridiculous.” Craig

“Have you spoken to chiefs?” State

“History is all about context…. When that state prohibited cannabis, it was white people that prohibited cannabis, for the purposes of the state, I would have achieved nothing speaking to traditional healers.” Craig

Craig has based his synopsis on written material that was found in archives, while the state asked him again whether speaking to African traditional leaders would have been needed. The state went as far as to ask Craig if he is learned in the Timbuktu manuscripts.

“Timbuktu manuscripts would be a waste of my time.” Craig

Craig was interrogated on his conclusion, but ultimately he is here to witness testimony of the reasons why cannabis has been prohibited and that it’s not his position before his court to determine that prohibition needs to be lifted. Bokaba asked Craig a ‘simple’ question leading him to a testimony from a scientist which details some harms of cannabis and asked him if he can agree that there are harms to cannabis. (This is nothing less than subterfuge, The manuscripts were written in Arabic and local languages like Songhay and Tamasheq)

Craig refused to answer such a question detailing that he is a historian and not a scientist and that he’s not here to argue on the scientific merits of cannabis. The state said that the history of the prohibition of cannabis is irrelevant when the harms caused by cannabis affect communities, children and the elder. (Even though the state has no evidence for this).

“Why do you answer questions about the history of cannabis if it’s not based on science?” State

Craig tried to explain his work further by saying that if a science is a racist, it should not be considered good science and that “the science of that time was racist”. If we talking about good law making, the whole society has a certain amount of say, on what is acceptable and what is not. How do we define racism? General view of differentiation between races and having a superior view about a race is racist.

State sees colored and Indians as ‘all black’.

The state asked Craig: “Do you know the plaintiffs? Do you know what race are the plaintiffs?” The state tried to lead Craig into a statement of his that the white race that was superior during apartheid, was not subject to the prohibition of cannabis.

“I don’t understand what the race of the plaintiffs have to do with the history of cannabis prohibition.” Craig

Even though Craig is here to show that the history of cannabis prohibition was racist.

The understanding that there was a threat posed by one racial group to another, and that the threat was increased via vice was shared. To minimize that threat, prohibition of cannabis and prohibition of drinking by black people was imposed. The state tried to establish that racism is a non-science issue in the Trial of the Plant, and said that this should be the basis that racism shouldn’t be a topic of discussion, but Craig feels that racism is the very reason why cannabis prohibition is currently in play.

The state turned Craig’s work against him by mincing his words, whereafter even Judge Ranchod schooled the state on their interpretation on land being taken during apartheid. Craig’s thesis does not refer or distinguish black South African groups, the state asked Craig where he defines this, but he hasn’t as his thesis was about the cannabis plant’s prohibition.

When the state asked Craig how many people used cannabis historically, he said she needs to give him a time in history, to which she implied to pre-colonial era. Craig mentioned that we don’t even know how many people existed back then, as there was not census so knowing a number of cannabis users would not be accurate.

Doctors for Life legal team handed in 4,000 pages of evidence today, to which the FOGFA legal team has asked for a postponement of tomorrow for them to work through the documentation. Court will start again on Wednesday 09:30AM.

Today in the media

News24 – Prohibition of dagga was racist – historian

Timeslive – Dagga laws are ‘racist and irrational’‚ court told 


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