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Cannabis, also known as marijuana, weed, grass or in our distinctly South African lexicon dagga, is one of those controversial substances that see many people divided about whether it is good, bad, harmful, helpful or just a part of life that some people choose to enjoy and others not. We won’t cover any moral or medical arguments here but will discuss some of the legal restrictions and consider responsible consumption as it relates to academic and work life.
The use of cannabis stretches back millennia. With its long acknowledged medicinal qualities, it was prescribed in the treatment of a range of ailments. Prior to the introduction of western medicine, the herb was used in southern Africa to ease and aid childbirth. In India, within the Hindu faith, it was believed to be divinely ordained. In addition to being a recreational pastime that people imbibe in an assortment of ways, it continues to be used for therapeutic interventions and religious or spiritual rituals in various parts of the world.
In South Africa, cannabis was recently decriminalized for a host of reasons, including the Western Cape High Court ruling that its criminalization, for personal use by consenting adults, was in fact unconstitutional. One must be mindful though to understand the difference between decriminalized and legalized. The use of cannabis is highly regulated, and only allowed to be consumed in private, by adults over the age of 18 years. While the recreational use of cannabis in private is legal, many aspects of producing, processing, storing, possessing, transporting and selling it are still against the law. One can only have a limited quantity in your possession, equivalent to what can be personally consumed which is quantified by the law as a maximum of 600g per individual in their private space or 100g in a public place but kept out of public view. The consumption of cannabis products is only permitted in private places, by adults. Consuming cannabis in public spaces remains a criminal offence. Supplying a minor, i.e. a child under the age of 18 years, with any form of recreational cannabis is a serious offence. In summary any deviation from the legally defined recreational use, possession or cultivation of cannabis by an adult in private is a criminal offence. It is very important to research and be informed about the legal limits that apply to the acquisition and consumption of recreational cannabis products so that you do not unwittingly find yourself on the wrong side of the law.
Depending on how cannabis is processed and produced, and on the individual consumers response, it is considered a stimulant, depressant or hallucinogen. Different consumers have a variety of physical and psychological experiences in response to cannabis which is perhaps one of the most intriguing things about it. Whatever the individual effect, it has the capacity to alter your state of mind. While some people may feel more alert, refreshed and aware after smoking cannabis, other users may feel relaxed, sleepy or calm. If you do part-take in the cannabis, be mindful of how it works for you and whether any activities you participate in will be meaningfully impacted. Like with consuming alcohol, responsibility and personal accountability are extremely important. Some cannabis activists point out that it is only mildly addictive – significantly less than other legalized and regulated substances. Long-term, frequent use has been shown to lead to potential addiction as with cigarettes and alcohol.
Schools, colleges and places of higher education have rules that speak to the use and consumption of substances by their students and on campus-owned sited. It bares knowing in advance what your institution articulates in its policies about the use of substances. Here are some examples taken from university handbooks:
Illness or unfitness to take an examination, caused by taking drugs of any kind except on the advice of a medical practitioner, may be rejected as grounds for the granting of a deferred examination;
A student must not commit the act of sale, distribution, use or possess any illegal drug, as defined by the Drug and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992, on campus;
A student must not drive a vehicle on the University campuses while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of exercising proper control of such vehicle;
A student may be excluded from cover in the medical and insurance scheme as a result of the influence of alcohol, drugs or narcotics upon the student;
Security service guidelines for dealing with people who are drunk or under the influence of drugs on campus property: (after a series of preliminary interventions) the person will be removed to a place of safety where a decision can be made regarding their immediate future.
As illustrated from the above examples, campuses and institutions usually have strict policies around incapacity to conduct tasks, insurance liability and disruptive behaviours as a result of consuming substances. They may go so far as to affect the person’s future with the institution, even resulting in suspension or expulsion. The key take away is that even as one is having fun, being mindful of the institutional rules that may impact on your academic record and good standing for graduation from your programme should always be a priority to be considered. You should know your limits and regulate your use of marijuana (if you do in fact use it) to be within the limits of the law and the policies of your education institution.
Companies and specific kinds of jobs have policies that govern employee behaviour in relation to the use of substances. Some have a “zero tolerance” policy for drug use, even for legal substances such as cannabis. Staff may be subject to random drug tests (as long as the company implements these in accordance with labour laws). Professions in the education, medical and mining industries may have much stricter policies about legal alcohol and cannabis consumption. Such policies often exist where staff need to operate, check or work with heavy machinery. For example, in mining the machine operators, engineers and health and safety officers have “zero tolerance” policies, even for consumption activities outside of working hours due to the potentially dangerous nature of the work and the high stakes risks that intoxication or residual intoxication pose. As an intern or on a work-study learning programme at a mining site, you too would be subject to random drug tests. Having cannabis in your system, even if it was consumed days before, may lead to disciplinary action. It is worth noting that tests to detect cannabis in the system identify the presence of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which can remain in the system for long periods after consumption. For first-time cannabis users THC will leave the system after a few days, but for regular users the compound gradually builds up and remains detectable for significantly longer periods after actual consumption.
If you do use cannabis products, make sure to know the risks – as with any mood altering, potentially addictive substance. Know the laws governing and regulating its use so that you do not risk arrest, prosecution and ending up with a criminal record which will have long-lasting effects. Ensure that you are aware of your education institution’s policies about cannabis use so that it does not put your graduation at risk. When you start working as an employee, be informed about the company policies and restrictions about substance use and related disciplinary steps. As with all things, responsible use and education about the effects and repercussions of cannabis use will protect you from negative impacts and allow you to enjoy the herb without risking your health, well-being, academic track and professional prospects.
*We are aware that long-term, regular and heavy use of cannabis can lead to substance addiction. If you experience strong impulses for, or a sense of dependency on cannabis or any other addictive substance and are unable to control your consumption we urge you to seek help from an addiction counselling service. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group has a hotline to help those living with addiction. Contact 0800 12 13 14 if you or somebody you know is struggling with substance abuse.