In a groundbreaking ruling the Constitutional Court of South Africa has decriminalised Cannabis after years of legal challenges by citizens and civil society groups through the nations courtrooms. Following an unprecedented length of time to make their decision, the court ruled that it will no longer be a criminal offence for an adult person to cultivate, possess or consume Cannabis in private. They also said “the judgement does not define how much Cannabis an adult person may cultivate or possess.”
In 2007 Ras Gareth Prince, who has previously lost a Constitutional Court case based on legalising for religious purposes only, and Jeremy Acton, leader of The Dagga Party of South Africa, had personally plead their case before the Western Cape High Court in the hope that the court would rule in favour of more proactive and realistic approach to Cannabis use in the country. This ruling came on the last final day of the promised 1st quarter finale of the long ongoing trial and had kept many of the nation’s citizens waiting with bated breath
Despite the trial having experienced a number of ups and downs, public support was consistently strong and Judge Davis had allowed both sides to plea their case. All three judges of the High Court unanimously declared the laws regarding Cannabis to be unconstitutional and declared that the South African government had 24 months to amend these laws in favour of legalisation. The court ordered that all cultivation, possession and personal use on private property be immediately permitted. The details regarding distribution and retail were however not ruled on in the judgement. As it stood, this meant that the laws regarding Cannabis confusingly fell somewhere between decriminalisation and legalisation. The judgement was appealed by the State soon after and therefore found its way to the Constitutional Court for the final say on the matter in November 2017. What followed was nearly a year long wait for what many hoped would be a reasonable ruling that validated the High Court’s earlier decision.
Significant weight had been added to the case due to the non-profit company Fields of Green For ALL and leaders from the Khoi Khoi, Griqua and Auni nations intervening in support, while Doctor’s For Life had unsurprisingly joined the State in opposition to any form of legalisation or decriminilisation.
Although the Constitutional Court previously ruled against legalisation, their finding at the time was that the parameters of the application sought then were too narrow and restrictive in that it would only really legalise Cannabis for use in a traditional use context, primarily for Rastafarians. The scope of the current case before the court was however much wider and is practically a blank cheque for the judges to order whatever legislation they see fit.
Hundreds of these enthusiastic supporters gathered outside the court room in the hopes being the first to hear good news while some had been holding a prayer vigil since as early as the previous morning. They weren’t disappointed when the Constitutional Court finally handed down its ruling.
Further comparisons were made to consumers need to not possess an unreasonable amount that courts may still need to decide if qualifies dealing to third parties, as well as the parallels in legal regulation. The court ordered that Parliament bring the nations laws in line within 24 months of the ruling and that should they fail to do so the order will become final.
This is certainly good news for human rights and drug policy reform activists across the globe, and heralds the turning of a new leaf for a country that has perhaps felt the effects of Cannabis prohibition longer than any other.
Watch the ruling