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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 17:37 GMT
SA blocks Rasta cannabis plea
The lawyer has vowed to continue smoking marijuana
South Africa's Constitutional Court has narrowly rejected an application lodged by a Rastafarian lawyer for cannabis to be legalised.

The primary issue in this case is not really cannabis, but...humanity and dignity

Rastafarian lawyer Gareth Price

Lawyer Gareth Prince petitioned the court after Cape Town's law society refused to admit him as an attorney because of two convictions for marijuana possession.

His application, which argued that use of the drug was part of his religion, was rejected by five votes to four.

In its ruling, the court described Mr Prince as "a person of principle", but said legalisation of cannabis "would be contrary to the (international) obligations of this country".

Mr Prince said he would continue to smoke cannabis, or dagga as it is known in South Africa, even if it meant the end of his career.

'Humanity and dignity'

"The primary issue in this case is not really cannabis, but the humanity and the dignity that has to be afforded unto Rastafari people as first nation or indigenous people of this country," he told the BBC.

He said the ruling showed that the constitution did not "have the guts to embrace the change which is inevitable in this country".

According to the AFP news agency, Judge-President Arthur Chakelson said most of the judges felt that the legalisation of cannabis for Rastafarians would make law enforcement difficult in the rest of the community.

Mr Prince's advocate, John Abel, told the SAPA news agency the decision went against current trends in Europe and Canada.

Cannabis was widely used there for medicinal and religious purposes, he said.

The dissenting judges delivered a minority judgement describing the prohibition of marijuana to Rastafarians as a "palpable invasion of their dignity".

BBC interview with lawyer Gareth Prince
"My cause is a righteous one"
See also:

13 Jan 02 | UK
Cannabis: the facts
11 Sep 00 | Africa
Malawi Rastas' marijuana struggle
05 Nov 01 | Africa
The town that Rastafarians built
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