In South Africa, cannabis is illegal, both for medical and recreational purposes. However, earlier this year, a high court ruling on a cannabis-related case found that any law prohibiting cannabis use and cultivation was unconstitutional and thus invalid. This ruling resulted to temporary and partial decriminalization of the substance. This also prompted cannabis growers and cannabis advocates in the country to make a push for a legal cannabis industry and a call for the government to change its current marijuana policy.
South Africa’s cannabis history and culture
Cannabis, which is locally called “dagga,” was already in popular use by the indigenous South African people even before the European settlement in 1652. Needless to say, the use of cannabis and hashish blended with their local traditions. It was even traditionally used by some tribes to aid in childbirth. There are also old Afrikaner recipes for food and teas that contain cannabis. The use of the cannabis plant was associated with lower economic status and traditional African populations.
In 2003, Interpol rated South Africa as the world’s fourth-largest cannabis producer, and the Institute for Security Studies stated that most of the cannabis that were seized in the United Kingdom and a third of the cannabis seized worldwide can be traced back to South Africa. According to the Medical Research Council, there were 3.2 million cannabis users in South Africa in 2008.
In 1922, national regulations prohibited the possession, cultivation, sale, and use of dagga. Dagga was then included in the list of illegal narcotics in the country. And in 1928, cannabis was wholly criminalized under the Medical, Dental and Pharmacy Act, both for moral and political reasons.
In 1937, the South African government introduced the Weeds Act, making the owner or occupant of a property responsible for preventing the cultivation of cannabis.
Concern about the extent of the use of cannabis or dagga in the country continued to grow, and, as a result, the Abuse of Dependence-producing Substances and Rehabilitation Centres Act was enacted.
In 1992, the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act came into effect, and it provides that those found in possession of over 115 grams of dagga is deemed guilty of selling the substance. However, courts found this to be an unjustifiable infringement of the constitutional rights of an individual to be presumed innocent, and so this particular provision of the Act was invalidated.
In March 2017, a case brought by Dagga Party leader Jeremy Acton before the Western Cape High Court ended with a ruling that declared that any law prohibiting the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana by an adult in his or her private home was unconstitutional and invalid on the grounds that it infringed on his or her constitutional right to privacy. Before this court decision takes effect, the Constitutional Court still needs to confirm it and then be suspended for 24 months to allow Parliament to enact a law that is in accordance with this ruling. In the interim, prosecutions on related transgressions of this law will be stayed.
This partial decriminalization of cannabis is going to affect sections of the Drugs Act, the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act, and the Medicines and Related Substances Act.
On the road to a legal cannabis industry?
Following the recent favorable court ruling, a new organization of cannabis producers – the Cannabis Development Council of South Africa – was formed. The group is petitioning for the region of KwaZulu-Natal to be permitted to cultivate dagga as a solution for its struggling small farms. Under the proposed plans, cannabis will initially be cultivated for the medical market.
The Parliamentary Committee on Health has already announced that the Medicines Control Council is going to publish guidelines on the cultivation and production of medical cannabis.