Dagga pupils face music

Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Nine Strandfontein High School pupils face possible expulsion after a video that purportedly shows them smoking dagga at school went viral last month.

The video was filmed on Monday October 15, more than four weeks after Constitutional Court Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo handed down a landmark ruling on Tuesday September 18 permitting adults to consume and cultivate dagga for private use.

The almost four-minute video shows the pupils in Grades 9 to 11 standing in a school corridor rolling what appears to be dagga joints and smoking them.

It shows pupils gambling and the pupil, wearing a white peak cap doing the filming, blows smoke at the cellphone screen.

They swear and talk about the video going viral. The camera pans across to the quad, where there are no teachers.

The school’s principal and school governing body (SGB) members referred the Plainsman to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).

Department spokeswoman Bro-nagh Hammond said the pupils had faced disciplinary action and that the SGB was preparing documents to recommend their expulsion.

She said the head of department, Brian Schreuder, would look at all the documents, including evidence and minutes of the hearings, and then make a decision on whether to expel the pupils or provide a different sanction.

“The school is also looking into preventative measures around drug awareness and counselling,” she said.

Ms Hammond said Education MEC Debbie Schäfer could overturn Mr Schreuder’s decision, but only if it was appealed.

She said the school had relooked its playground duty roster and have requested additional assistance from parents, the community and the police in terms of school monitoring.

In a statement, Mr Schreuder said the Concourt ruling had no bearing at schools where drugs and weapons have no place. He said the video showed the lack of respect some pupils had for their school.

“Respect and discipline begins at home, and we are appealing to parents to teach and encourage discipline, respect and tolerance, both at home, in society and in school,” he said.

The community should help to fight substance abuse so that all children had a chance of quality education, he said.

“While we have many socio-economic challenges in our province, we cannot become a society that accepts or condones violent behaviour or substance abuse in our schools,” he said.

Cathy Karassellos, a clinical psychologist and clinical manager for Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre, said 67 percent of their clients – the majority of them being adolescents – identified dagga as their primary substance.

“This is, however, a stable pattern we have been seeing for some time, and not a new picture stemming from the change in dagga legislation. We feel that an increase in dagga addiction due to the bill will come in time,” she said.

Ms Karassellos said parents should be concerned about their chil-
dren using dagga and their treatment plan included the whole family. She said was a general lack of understanding in the community about addiction.

“This lack of understanding leads to nega-
tive attitudes and punitive responses, rather than offering those af-
fected the help and support required. Addiction is the whole community’s responsibility,” she said.

In a statement, the centre said it understood and supported the legislation, which decriminalised dagga users, but felt it should have stated that dagga could be potentially harmful or addictive.

The centre also said the bill did not imply safety of use and that adolescents were particularly at risk.

“Adolescents are at a crucial phase of their social, emotional, physical, intellectual and personality development. They are facing academic pressure at high school. In all of these areas, they are likely to be detrimentally affected by dagga use.”

Cognitive functions like memory and concentration were compromised by dagga smoking, it said noting that adolescents who depend on drugs like dagga and alcohol for confidence were less likely to develop well-founded social skills.

If adolescents felt more entitled to use dagga, within a couple of years, because of the court ruling, the centre warned it would see more young adults with addictions to dagga.

The treatment centre defined addiction as a chronic illness, like diabetes, which had to be understood by the addict and their family.

“It is the inability to consistently control the use of mood- and mind-altering substances. Non-addicts can have a glass of wine, or even use a drug if occasionally offered at a party. An addict is likely to use more than planned and use it in a self-damaging way, when taking substances,” the centre said.