For one South African mother, dagga was an illegal drug to warn her son about when he became a teenager: today, she uses it to treat his rare medical condition.
Now the ban on using the drug is being challenged in the High Court, raising the possibility that it could be decriminalised.
“When I first heard of medical cannabis, I thought they were smoking it because they wanted to get high,” said Susanne, who asked for her real name to be withheld.
“Then I had a kid who could actually benefit from it.” She remembers the impact that cannabis oil appeared to have on her seven-year-old son, who suffers from Costello syndrome which causes delayed physical and mental development.
“A month after he first started taking it we had a family function and they were gob-smacked. For the first time he played on his own and didn’t need his mummy,” she said, explaining he was prone to restlessness and joint pain as a result of the condition.
Susanne was persuaded to try the oil by Gerd Bader, who manufactures concentrated cannabis oil to treat his own multiple sclerosis. Bader and Susanne are among a growing number of South Africans calling for dagga to be legalised for medical purposes.
Bader, 49, uses a home-made blasting tube to extract the oil from cannabis buds. “People who are dying now cannot wait until parliament makes a decision in two years – nobody has two years to wait,” he said.
“I’m branded a criminal [by society] for illegally helping people when doctors have given up on them. “I wish we could come together and show them our expertise.”
Bader, who sells a bottle with 5.5g of cannabis oil for R1600, is also bullish about the economic benefits of legalising marijuana.
“It could be a major revenue source for the taxman. Free the weed, give it to the people. We’ll have an industry like we’ve never had before. It’s like the oil in Arabia – an industry with no overheads. Imagine,” he said.
Bader, who is wheelchair-bound, claims to have benefited enormously from medical marijuana, chiefly as pain relief. “I was dying with my condition but it’s brought my life back,” he said.
Susanne’s son is one of those for whom mainstream medicines have fallen short. As well as helping to calm him, the cannabis oil eases the pain that he experiences in his joints, a typical symptom of Costello.
Susanne spoke as the High Court case that users hope will change the legal status of cannabis got under way.
Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs – dubbed “the dagga couple” – were arrested in August 2010 for possession and launched the challenge to the constitutionality of the ban in the High Court in Pretoria.
Susanne hopes the case will be a step towards full legalisation and medical testing.