South Africa’s top court says adults can use marijuana in private. The Constitutional Court on Tuesday upheld a provincial court’s ruling in a case involving Gareth Prince, who advocates the decriminalization of the drug.
Prince says cannabis should be regulated in the same way as alcohol and tobacco. Government authorities have said cannabis is harmful and should be illegal.
It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public, and to sell and supply it.
On Tuesday (Sep. 18), the court decided unanimously to lift the country’s ban on cannabis with Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo declaring in an official statement that, “It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption.” In a unanimous ruling, judges also legalised the growing of marijuana for private consumption.
Pro-marijuana activists cheered in the public gallery and chanted “Weed are free now” when the Constitutional Court gave its landmark ruling.
As part of its decision, the court simply upheld a previous ruling that the ban violated the constitutional right to privacy within the home, meaning that citizens will now be allowed to consume cannabis at home, but will still be barred from doing so in public.
The commercial sale and cultivation of cannabis will also remain illegal, while the exact amount an individual will be allowed to grow or possess at home will be left for the government to decide.
The parliament now has 24 months to make sure that the law reflects the court’s decision and add any regulations—such as grow limits—it believes are necessary or the court’s ruling will automatically go into effect without restrictions.
The decision came as a result of a 2017 case in which the Western Cape High Court ruled in favor of three cannabis users who argued that the country’s cannabis ban violated their privacy rights. The decision was challenged by the government and brought before the country’s highest court on Tuesday morning.
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.
Many of the country’s lawmakers remain opposed to the legalization of cannabis—or dagga, as it’s known locally—though the ruling of the Constitutional Court is final and binding, meaning that lawmakers are left with no choice but to accept and implement the new rules.
Still, attitudes toward the plant appear to be shifting, even among government officials. In the fall of 2016, Central Drug Authority officials, wrote in an article for SA Medical Journal that, “decriminalization can contribute to improved public health,” going on to say, “There is little evidence that focusing on supply reduction via criminalization is effective in reducing alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other substance abuse.”