No, private cannabis use has not been decriminalized in South Africa yet. However, it certainly seems a lot more likely, following a landmark Western Cape High Court ruling, which had cannabis users on a high recently. In the ruling, Judge Dennis Davis declared certain existing cannabis laws unconstitutional because they went against the right to privacy enshrined in the South African Constitution.
However, although some have blithely continued to enjoy feelings of freedom after what was considered by many to be the decriminalization of cannabis, many came down with a crash a day later. This followed the South African Parliament’s response to the court’s ruling.
The court ruling declared that South African adults could grow, possess and use a “small” amount of cannabis in the privacy of their own home. But the message from the legislature was clear: “Don’t light up yet!”
Factors that could nip private cannabis use in the bud
The parliamentary report pointed out a couple of hurdles yet to be overcome before private cannabis use is decriminalized completely in South Africa. In the order, the government has been given two years to rectify existing laws (or introduce new ones) that protect adult cannabis users’ privacy at home. And before that happens, the Constitutional Court, which is the highest court in the land, still has to endorse the High Court ruling. Parliament also has to decide whether or not to use its right to appeal.
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Fighting the cannabis fight
This latest court case was led by South Africa’s Dagga (Cannabis) Party leader, Jeremy Acton, and Rastafarian Gareth Prince, a qualified lawyer, whose student conviction on cannabis charges prevented his admission to the South African Bar. In the background, a large group of South African cannabis users who have been enjoying a stay of prosecution on cannabis charges during the court battle, waited with bated breath for the outcome of the hearing.
In defence of private use
When announcing the ruling, Judge Davis declared that while certain provisions in existing laws were invalid, their invalidity would be suspended for 24 months to allow Parliament time to correct the defects. However, in the interim, the court order stated that the ruling that “the possession or cultivation of cannabis in a private dwelling is for the personal consumption of the adult accused”, could be used as a defense against a charge.
Already, following the ruling, changes do seem to be happening regarding private cannabis use in South Africa. Acton’s fifth prosecution for possession, in an unrelated case, was withdrawn by the state days after the High Court decision. In a post on Facebook, Acton also claimed he had been told of several other cases being withdrawn by police.
South Africans have been warned that the laws in question are still valid, until the suspension period expires in two years’ time. This means that legal raids can still be made, cannabis confiscated, and charges laid, against adults in their homes. However, it appears the court’s stance on the matter may lead to less prosecutions or fewer successful ones.