In a landmark ruling this morning, the Western Cape High Court in South Africa ruled that keeping weed illegal is unconstitutional. The decision marks a significant change in South Africa’s cannabis laws, effectively legalizing private cannabis use.
Get High On Your Own Supply In South Africa
South Africa’s “Criminal Prohibition of Dagga Act” made it illegal to grow, own, or use cannabis. But in today’s ruling, the High Court declared that law unconstitutional.
Deemed unfair, outdated, and discriminatory, the court said that the law disproportionately targeted people of color.
The court’s decision also went after the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act. That law previously made it illegal to possess drugs unless they were used for medical purposes.
By ruling against these laws, the court has now effectively made it legal for people to possess and use cannabis in their homes, and to grow their own weed.
In addition to declaring these laws unconstitutional, the court also issued orders to Parliament. Lawmakers now have 24 months to update the Drug Trafficking Act and the Medicines Control Act to reflect the new laws about private cannabis use.
“What this means is that South Africans can use cannabis in their homes,” said Garreth Prince, a cannabis activist involved with the ruling. “At least the police can focus their attention on serious and hard crime and stop wasting valuable resources, time, and effort on pursuing people for cannabis.”
Prince explained that technically speaking, a person could still be arrested for smoking weed. But thanks to the court’s decision today, that person can now get out of all charges by citing the right to privacy.
Cannabis won’t be formally legal until Parliament finalizes its legislation. But the court’s orders remove the threat of being arrested or prosecuted for using weed in private.
A Victory For Activists in South Africa
Today’s ruling comes largely as a response to the efforts of Prince, who is a lawyer and cannabis activist, and Dagga Party leader Jeremy Acton.
Prince was arrested in 1989 for cannabis possession. At the time, he was studying to become a lawyer. He paid his fine and thought he was in the clear.
But the charge came back to haunt him when his application to the Cape Bar was denied. The Bar rejected his application because of the earlier arrest and because Prince refused to apologize for it.
Prince, who is Rastafarian, argued that his use of weed should be protected under South Africa’s Constitution because it was for religious purposes. He brought his argument all the way to the Constitutional Court, but it failed to gain any traction.
Eventually becoming a legal adviser, most of Prince’s work focused on helping people who were arrested on weed-related charges.
However, he was arrested again in 2012. This time it was for growing cannabis. After his run-ins with the law, Prince became a leader in the push for legalization.
At the end of 2016, Acton and Prince argued for the decriminalization of weed. Today’s decision was a direct response to their most recent efforts.
The Final Hit
The court’s ruling today dramatically changes cannabis laws in South Africa. But it also has international implications as well.
There is a growing movement calling for an end to the global war on drugs. Cannabis legalization is a key part of that movement.
Last year, the Global Commission on Drug Policy published a statement on this issue. In it, the group called on the UN to urge for a global decriminalization of drugs.
The UN has not made any official moves. But today’s ruling puts South Africa at the forefront of the move to decriminalize drugs.