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South Africa Decriminalises Personal Cannabis Use and Cultivation

South Africa’s highest court has decriminalised the private possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.

The Constitutional Court ruled that prohibiting such activities within an individual's home is a violation of the right to privacy. The Court acknowledged the lack of evidence that criminalisation reduces cannabis use, and accepted data from medical studies demonstrating that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis, according to local publication Times Live.

Public cannabis use, and private or public use by minors, remain illegal.

The Court chose not to define a threshold quantity for possessing or cultivating cannabis for “personal use”, with Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo stating that this is a decision that should be made by Parliament. Until then, Zondo said, individual police officers must make decisions on a case-by-case basis; if the quantity discovered exceeds the officer’s perception of “personal”, the person in possession can be arrested. This potentially creates a loophole through which people may continue to face arrest for cannabis possession despite the ruling.

The Court ruled that existing legislation prohibiting the personal possession, use, and cultivation of cannabis is invalid, effective immediately. The Court issued the government with 24 months to “correct the defect” legislatively, News 24 reports.

See our map of cannabis/drug decriminalisation around the world. Enlarge here

South Africa has seen considerable debate around cannabis in recent years. In 2017, the Western Cape High Court ruled that it was an infringement of individual privacy to prevent personal use in a private home. Today’s (18 September) ruling by the Constitutional Court confirms the legitimacy of last year’s judgement. It also defers all ongoing prosecutions for cannabis possession for the time being.

South Africa’s first medical cannabis dispensary opened in Durban earlier this year. As TalkingDrugs reported, the dispensary does not stock any product containing cannabis’ THC compound (which delivers the “high”), as this remains illegal to sell.

The past year has also seen significant changes in the legal approach to cannabis elsewhere in southern African countries. In April, Zimbabwe said it would soon authorise the provision of licenses to people who seek to cultivate cannabis for medical or research purposes. This followed the legal regulation of medical cannabis production in Lesotho, which appears to permit production for certain foreign corporations, but continues to criminalise local farmers.

Elsewhere in Africa, Ghana is considering plans to decriminalise all personal drug use and possession, although no legal change has taken place there. For now, South Africa remains the only country in the continent to have decriminalised cannabis possession and cultivation for personal use.

This ruling marks an important international milestone: every continent on Earth now has at least one country that has decriminalised cannabis in all or part of its territory.

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