Johannesburg, South Africa : South Africa’s top court on Tuesday legalized growing and using marijuana (cannabis) in private i.e. at home, saying it should be regulated in the same way as tobacco or alcohol.
He added that it would not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for their personal consumption in private.
“It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private space,’’ Judge Raymond Zondo said in handing down the judgement.
The Constitutional Court of South Africa did not specify the quantity of cannabis a person can grow or use in private.
“This must be determined by parliament,” he said.
Parliament is now expected to amend the laws that criminalize cannabis following the court ruling.
It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public, and to sell and supply it.
The ruling came after a provincial high court in 2017 found out that the use of cannabis in private space should be allowed because laws against it were inconsistent with the country’s constitution.
The state appealed to the Constitutional Court, which upheld the high court’s findings.
Celebrations broke out in the court, which was packed with marijuana advocates and members of South Africa’s Rastafarian community.
“It’s been persecution and prosecution for the Rastafarian community,’’ one of those celebrating, Prince, told state media.
Activists who include members of the Rastafarian movement and traditional healers greeted the ruling with loud applause. They have held marches over the years to demand that the law be changed to allow people to smoke ‘weed’, which is called ‘dagga’ in South Africa.
Several government departments, including the health and justice ministries, oppose its legalization and warn of harmful effects.
But in a unanimous judgment read by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the Constitutional Court decriminalized home consumption, saying “the use of cannabis must be for the personal consumption of the adult”. The ruling also approved growing marijuana for personal consumption.
Rastafarian Garreth Prince and former Dagga Party leader Jeremy Acton brought the case asking the High Court to allow for the home use of marijuana.
Jules Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke‚ known as the “Dagga Couple”, joined the case, and asked the court to strike down laws banning the use‚ cultivation and sale of marijuana.
Activists had argued that the criminalization of dagga use and possession is a violation of the right to equality, dignity, and freedom of religion.
The Cannabis Development Council of South Africa welcomed the ruling, and called on the government to drop charges against people found in possession of the drug.
Jeremy Acton, the leader of the Dagga Party, which campaigns for the use of cannabis, said the ruling should have gone further to legalise the carrying of marijuana in public.
There was no immediate comment from the departments over the country’s top court ruling on Tuesday.
This judgement is a reminder that South Africa’s hard-won constitution is among the most liberal in the world, backing individual rights, and in this case the right to grow and smoke your own marijuana in private, against the government’s concerns about public health and public order.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling focuses on the issue of privacy, and a person’s right to do as they please in their own home.
The potential implications of the binding judgment are enormous, and unpredictable – particularly in terms of the criminal justice system, which routinely locks up thousands of overwhelmingly poor South Africans for using or dealing in small amounts of cannabis.
It is possible that the ruling, by allowing users to grow their own marijuana at home, could undermine the stranglehold of powerful drug gangs that blight so many communities. But the police, who argued against this change, will worry that the ruling will create more ambiguity and send the wrong signal to criminals.
The court has not approved – in any form – the trade in marijuana, meaning the government will not be able to profit from taxing a legalised industry.
In political terms, the landmark ruling emphasises the primacy of South Africa’s constitution, which brushed aside the united opposition of numerous government ministries at a time when the authority and credibility of many of this young democracy’s other institutions have been eroded by corruption and poor governance.
The court gave parliament 24 months to change the law to reflect its ruling.
Adults who used marijuana in private would be protected by the ruling until the law was amended.
In April Zimbabwe became the second country in Africa, after Lesotho, to legalise the use of marijuana for medical use.