South Africa’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in the nation (no pun intended), ruled unanimously to legalize cannabis use for adults on private land such as their own homes. In addition, South Africans will also be allowed to grow their own cannabis for private consumption!
As Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo declared in his judgment:
“It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption.”
The ruling is binding, which is good news for the celebrating cannabis activists as the South African government was against legalization due to concerns over health and public order.
The main issue was the right to privacy, which is guaranteed under sec. 14 of South Africa’s constitution. Now, the government can no longer arrest you for using cannabis in your own house. This was declared unconstitutional in a lower court back in 2017, and the Constitutional Court upheld the ruling earlier this week.
The government has been given 24 months to change the laws to reflect the ruling, but it should be noted the court left it up to the government to set possession limits. It’s too early to tell where the government will set the limits, but for comparison’s sake, the legal possession limit for recreational cannabis in Canada is 30 g, while medical cannabis patients are allowed to possess up to 150 g.
In South Africa, cannabis is known as “dagga”, and according to the BBC, the leader of the activist Dagga Party said “the ruling should have gone further to legalize the carrying of marijuana in public”, but hopefully, as long as people aren’t openly carrying it around, they should be fine- unless there’s sniffer dogs around!
The Dagga Party also advocates for cannabis to be treated similarly to tobacco and alcohol, and when comparing the relative harms of cannabis to the others, that’s a very common sense position that has yet to be adopted, even in countries like Canada that’s legalizing cannabis in just under a month!
The ruling was also applauded by the Cannabis Development Council of South Africa as it called for cannabis amnesty and possession charges to be dropped.
A huge step forward for South Africa but full legalization is still far away
The South African cannabis activists still have a lot of work ahead of them. While adults will be legally allowed to use cannabis in the privacy of their homes, it’s not full legalization because it’s still illegal to distribute and sell cannabis, as well as using it in public.
As in many other countries, South Africa’s cannabis laws were shaped by racist policies and it disproportionately affected the poor, and this is a great step towards drug law reform and social justice.
Cannabis legalization is a sign of the times as nations around the world begin to wake up and realize that the War on Drugs has done far more damage than the drugs it’s fought so hard against.
Featured image courtesy of CNN.