The Constitutional Court ruled the country’s ban on private use of marijuana unconstitutional and gave Parliament two years to implement changes.
In a landmark ruling, South Africa’s highest court this week unanimously legalized the personal use and possession of marijuana.
Upholding a provincial court’s ruling in a case involving decriminalization advocate Gareth Prince, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said in his judgment that the ban on private use of the plant is “unconstitutional and therefore invalid.”
“The right to privacy is not confined to a home or private dwelling. It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in a private space,” said Zondo on Tuesday.
The government had previously been opposed to legalizing marijuana, referred to as “dagga” in South Africa. Authorities have maintained that cannabis is “harmful” to people’s health.
The Constitutional Court gave South Africa’s government two years to adopt a ruling, which is binding. Additionally, the judgment did not specify the quantity of cannabis adults would be able to possess, so Parliament will decide.
“Parliament may correct the defect. In my view, a period of 24 months from the date of this judgment would be appropriate.
“The order also makes clear that the relevant provisions are only unconstitutional to the extent that they trench upon the private use and consumption of a quantity of cannabis for personal purposes, which the legislative considers does not constitute undue harm.”
Using marijuana in public, as well as selling and supplying the substance, remains illegal. The court said that it would be up to a police officer to determine whether the quantity of marijuana in a person’s possession is for personal use or distribution. If the police officer opts to arrests a person, the courts will eventually decide whether that person was in possession of cannabis with the intent to deal.
The court’s ruling was welcomed by the Cannabis Development Council of South Africa, who quickly called on the government to dismiss charges against people found in possession of marijuana.
Parliament acknowledged the Constitutional Court judgment in a statement, saying: “This could entail Parliament introducing a new Bill. Alternatively, the Executive, who were party to the litigation, could introduce a new Bill to give effect to the order of the Court.
“Parliament is in possession of the judgment and the relevant structures in Parliament will take a decision on the manner to give effect to the judgment. As required by the Constitution, the public will have an opportunity to make submissions during the processes in Parliament.”
South Africa and Medical Marijuana
South Africa’s Medicines Control Council and the Department of Health in Committee announced its intentions to legalize its medicinal use in 2016 following a two-year investigation into the cannabis’ therapeutic potential.
The country then opened the door for the domestic manufacturing of cannabis in 2017 and opened its first medical marijuana dispensary in May of this year.
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