South Africa moves closer to legalizing cannabis

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The South African National Assembly approved the Cannabis for Private Use Bill on Tuesday, November 14, marking a significant step forward towards the legalization of the personal use of cannabis.

This development follows the 2018 Constitutional Court ruling which ended the prohibition of cannabis in the country. However, as with all cannabis reform, the path to legalization is paved with complexities and nuances.

Why does South Africa want to legalize cannabis?

The roots of this legislative journey date back to the 2017 Western Cape High Court decision, which found the ban on adult consumption of cannabis in private places unconstitutional. Rastafarian Garreth Prince and former Dagga Party leader Jeremy Acton were instrumental in challenging the ban, arguing that it disproportionately targeted black and indigenous South Africans.

The Constitutional Court upheld this decision in 2018, tasking the government to approve an appropriate draft law by September 28, 2024, in order to finalize the legislative reform process.

The Private Cannabis Bill has garnered support from various political parties including the African National Congress, Democratic Alliance, Inkatha Freedom Party, Economic Freedom Fighters, National Party of Freedom and the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania. However, not all voices are in harmony, as the Freedom Front Plus and the African Christian Democratic Party voiced their opposition during the plenary meeting of the National Assembly.

Although the bill does not explicitly create a recreational cannabis market or legalize sales, the commission and the South African government are optimistic about its potential impact on the country’s cannabis industry. The government has made the cannabis and hemp sector a priority, recognizing its potential to attract investment, create jobs and support sustainable rural livelihoods.

Democratic Alliance MP Janho Engelbrecht highlighted the scope of the bill before the Assembly: “This concerns cannabis for private use for adults. It is not permitted to buy or sell cannabis, as it remains a criminal activity with serious consequences. If you want to smoke cannabis you have to grow it, don’t buy it.”

Erasure of criminal records

One notable aspect of the bill is its provision for expunging the criminal records of people previously convicted of cannabis-related offenses. Like the evolution of cannabis regulation in the United States, this measure aims to rectify the consequences of previous convictions and is part of the global trend towards decriminalization.

However, the bill does not specify the quantities of cannabis plants and dried cannabis authorized for private use. To fill this gap, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, will draft regulations, submitted to Parliament for approval, which will define the parameters for the consumption of cannabis by adults in private spaces.

Despite the recent approval of the bill, its journey has been long. Moloto Mothapo, Parliament’s spokesperson, attributed the protracted process to concerns about the potential impact on children. The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development asked the committee to broaden the subject matter of the bill to include considerations related to the best interests of children, emphasizing the need for a balanced approach.

Mothapo clarified: “The bill as it was tabled and deliberated by the committee until its meeting on September 12, 2023 did not exceed the adult-centered objective of the use of cannabis at private purposes.

The bill will now be sent to the National Council of Provinces for approval.

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