By Jason Marcuz
For many decades, cannabis has been illegal in South Africa both for recreational and medicinal use. Weed was first restricted in 1922 with exceptions made for medical and religious use. This ban was challenged in high court with the litigants seeking to have marijuana use decriminalized.
Now a South African court has ruled that prohibition on the use of cannabis is against the constitution. The Western Cape High Court declared that adults could rightfully grow, possess, or use marijuana within their homes. The three-judge bench in the Cape Town High Court made a unanimous declaration that the legislation governing cannabis in South Africa is unconstitutional.
The judges further ordered the government to come up with legislation to amend current laws, making them favorable to cannabis cultivation, possession and use. The court also ruled that all cultivation, possession, and use, on private property, be allowed with immediate effect.
The ruling has been hailed by many in South Africa and those in communities that support the use of both medical and recreational marijuana. There is hope now that the South African weed culture will emerge from the shadows and thrive.
However, since it is not yet law, users can still be arrested and taken to a court of law. The judges, in their ruling, declared that the right of an individual to own, cultivate and use marijuana in the privacy of their home could be used as a defense in a court of law. So a user can be arrested but is permitted to use the ruling in their defense.
An important point to note is that the judgment did not mention anything about legal distribution or a retail network. So while it may be legal to grow and use marijuana, distributing and selling is not yet allowed under the current South African law.
It is possible that the South African government will appeal this ruling and the outcome of the appeal is not be known for some time. But at the moment, it is possible to avoid jail term is arrested for growing, possessing and using marijuana at home. What is unclear is what happens to all citizens previously arrested on marijuana-related charges.