South Africa Legalises Cannabis for Recreational Use

  • South Africa’s Western Cape High Court ruled that Cannabis prohibition in South Africa is “unconstitutional”
  • 260,000 people were arrested for cannabis in South Africa last year
  • The State can still appeal the decision
  • Medical marijuana was legalised in February

Adults now have the right to use, possess and grow cannabis in the privacy of their homes following a landmark decision from South Africa’s highest court.

All three judges of the Western Cape High Court unanimously ruled in April that laws regarding cannabis prohibition in South Africa are unconstitutional, giving the government 24 months to amend the law in favour of cannabis legalisation.

South African protesting for legal cannabis

Criminalized in 1908 under the “Criminal Prohibition of Dagga Act,” South Africa prohibited the possession, use and growth of cannabis. This new ruling will undo over 100 years of injustice.

Over 13% of all South Africa’s arrests in 2016 (260,000 people) involved cannabis. Hundreds of thousands of people stand to benefit from the High Court’s intervention.

There is still confusion surrounding the ruling, as police can still arrest a person for possession, with public use remaining illegal. Essentially, the new ruling only provides a “defence to a charge”; meaning you can still be arrested for possessing the medical herb, but it is unlikely you will be charged.

There is also a lack of clarity concerning the details of a legal distribution and retail network were not included in this ruling. Distribution remains illegal, meaning the only legal way to acquire cannabis is by growing your own, which could be problematic for those who have neither the time or space to grow.

It is unclear how the South African government will respond to the High Court’s ruling. Parliament in the African state retains the right to veto, although it is unlikely they will be able to overturn the ruling by the High Court. Here is part of their official response:

“Parliament is in the process of obtaining the judgment to study exactly what it says.

If the two laws mentioned have been found to be unconstitutional, then the Constitutional Court would have to confirm the judgment before Parliament can act. The state could also appeal the judgment.”

The Government has two years to present an official response to the ruling.

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