WHILE South Africans were contemplating the effects of land reform and a technical recession, the country’s apex court, the Constitutional Court reached a unanimous verdict. Upholding an earlier ruling by the Western Cape High Court, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo announced a major victory for dagga liberalisation.
“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 private space,” he said on Tuesday.
Parliament has been given time to produce new regulations regarding the details which could see many commercial opportunities surrounding the plant emerging from a 24 month consultation period.
The decision effectively moves dagga out of the realms of narcotics law and under the ambit of the liquor act.
Person falling foul of the law, (dealing in dagga is still a crime) could find themselves pleading a petty misdemeanor. With cannabis on par with alcohol it remains to be seen how the new system will work. Currently bakers and distillers of gin and beer require permits. Township shabeens are often the subject of raids against unlicensed liquor. (see greenlight districts)
The president has the power to grant amnesty to citizens who have found themselves on the wrong side of an apartheid-era prohibition regime that remained in place long past its sell-by-date, and despite the new democratic order. South Africa has been slow to follow the lead taken by the West and has lost out on trade.
Why the ruling party failed to accept the reality in this regard is the cause of much debate on the ground, where ordinary people have long relied on dagga as a cheaper and healthier alternative to alcohol. The NPA is still signalling that it wants to prosecute users and no doubt police will need to be retrained to avoid unnecessary complaints against the Minister of Justice.
Where South Africa was quick to jettison the apartheid regime and its emphasis on morality alongside prohibitions on the possession of pornography, the ANC state dilly daddled on dagga, perhaps out of fear for the strong Christian lobby in the country’s rural heartland.
The decision is a significant blow to religious and narcotics police posing as moralists and bolsters the secular state and its separation of powers that uphold the rights of the individual.
Although dagga use was prevalent amongst members of the anti-apartheid movement, both inside and outside the country, representatives in parliament (bar the IFP) have tendered to pass the buck while looking the other way.
Despite the, harm reduction ironically, remains the position of the African Union and our nation’s representative in the AU