THE Chief Justice, Nthomeng Majara and two other judges sitting as the Constitutional Court have given the government until 20 March 2018 to file its answering affidavits in a case in which a Rastafarian, Motseki Letsota, wants the Constitutional Court to invalidate laws that prohibit him from using cannabis.
Chief Justice Majara and Justices Tšeliso Monaphathi and Semapo Peete on Tuesday made the order after expressing their displeasure at the government’s continued delay in filing its answering affidavits to defend the challenge.
The 29-year-old Letsota from Khanyane in Leribe, filed the landmark case on 31 January 2018, but the government has not yet filed its affidavit despite filing an intention to oppose the case.
The respondents are the Minister of Heath, Minister of Justice, Minister of Law and Constitutional Affairs, Minister of Police, Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General.
The judges said “the court takes a strong view that the respondents did not file papers for a long time”.
“The respondents should file their answering affidavits by 20 March and the applicant should file his replying affidavit by the 9th of April”.
The lawyers for both sides were also ordered to appear in court on 30 April 2018 for the court to set a date for hearing the application.
Mr Letsota alternatively wants the court to order the Ministry of Health to grant him an exemption to enable him to use cannabis for religious purposes if the entire law against the use of the plant is not declared unconstitutional.
“I am a member of Rastafari religion since 2005,” Mr Letsota states in his affidavit.
“I chose to adhere to the Rastafari faith on my own accord. I took and uphold the vow of the Rastafari Order and the Nazarene.”
“I abide and live by the Rastafari Order and I uphold Rastafari levity, culture, religion, way of life, traditions, rituals and diet.”
He further states that he took the religious vow of a life-time and this includes the use of cannabis for religious purposes.
He however, said the country’s laws criminalise the use of cannabis and the failure to grant him an exemption to use the drug violated his constitutional rights.
“I use the cannabis plant for Rastafari religious and spiritual purposes only. I use cannabis alone in my own privacy and in a disciplined manner. My use of cannabis does not affect any body since it is done in the private dwelling, within closed rooms and well-ventilated areas.
“I use cannabis in my enclosed privacy in a way that is not detrimental to public health and safety, public morality, state interests, my own health and wellbeing, and not infringing on other people’s rights and safety.”
He said he uses less than 50 grammes of cannabis per day for his religious purposes when praying, meditating, as an incense or sacrament. He said the drug was a “holy herb” and for spiritual healing.
“I applied for an exemption (to be allowed to use cannabis) in terms of section 98 of Drug Abuse Act on the 1st of August 2017 and my application was deliberately, unjustly, unconstitutionally and unreasonably withheld by the Ministry of Health.
“I believe the exemption shall resolve or remedy this situation where I am trapped in a conflict of laws and interests on whether or not to abide by the law of man or the law of God.
“The criminality of cannabis even for my private spiritual and religious use hinders my constitutional protection and enjoyment of my civil and political, socio-economic, cultural and environmental rights,” he said.