Is Marijuana Legal in South Africa?
As the legalisation of marijuana has become more and more commonplace around the world, many may wonder what the actual legal status of cannabis is in South Africa. Sadly, this isn’t a yes or no kind of question. There are many issues to address on the topic ranging from the differences between dry cannabis and cannabis oils/medicines, recreational use versus medical use and even the enforcement of laws. So let’s begin with the most pertinent question and stumble on it from there. Is marijuana legal in South Africa?
The answer is Yes!… and also no… As of 2018, the private use of marijuana by adults in their own homes was essentially decriminalized. Thus, you may grow and use small amounts of weed in private.
The constitutional court ruled that charging an adult with a legal offence after they cultivated or consumed a relatively small amount of cannabis on their own property was unconstitutional and subsequently legalised the practice. So, problem solved, right? Well, not exactly, there are still many practices surrounding the use and sale of marijuana that remain technically illegal.
What can you Do and Not Do with Marijuana?
The topic of cannabis is one of the most confusing and poorly defined in South African law. As such, there is constant debate over what should or should not be legalised with new legislation being proposed constantly.
As the situation currently stands you may do the following –
- Cultivate marijuana for personal use on your own property
- Legally possess marijuana (possession of very large amounts could be viewed as illegal if it is determined that you are actually a distributor)
- Consume marijuana in private
The list of things you may not do with marijuana is slightly longer –
- You may not buy or sell marijuana
- You may not consume marijuana in a public space
- You may not consume marijuana in the immediate presence of a child
- Consumption of marijuana by any person under the age of 18 is illegal
- Adults who possess marijuana must ensure that it is stored in an area inaccessible by children
These rulings apply to the recreational use of cannabis and create a whole host of debates and objections.
Very Confusing Laws
Current legislation has been plagued with vagaries that make understanding what is and is not legal very difficult. The first issue is with regard to how much marijuana a person can possess for personal use.
The laws currently leave it to the discretion of the arresting officers and judges to determine if an individual is growing cannabis for personal use or for distribution. It makes sense then that if you are caught growing a warehouse’s worth of weed, you’ll probably be arrested as a dealer.
But how much is too much? There may very well be instances where an individual is arrested for the cultivation of marijuana for commercial purposes when they are actually just growing a whole lot for themselves.
A Side Note for CBD
As noted, it is illegal to buy or sell cannabis in South Africa, though it should be pointed out that products containing less than 0.2% THC are not considered to be cannabis products and are thus legal for sales and purchases. This includes CBD oil.
Some readers may argue that they have seen (or maybe even visited) shops around the country that seem to openly sell marijuana. This sometimes happens due to misunderstandings over the current laws (as mentioned, it’s very confusing) or due to a lack of any real law enforcement effort to shut down said stores.
Please note however that these establishments are technically illegal. While most cannabis oils and paraphernalia are legal, recreational weed is not. Any interactions with cannabis dealers are done at your own risk.
What about Medical Marijuana?
Medical use of cannabis has been legal in South Africa since 2017. As long as you have a valid prescription from a medical practitioner you may consume cannabis, this includes its dry form as well as cannabis oils and products that contain cannabis extracts.
Why can’t you Buy or Sell Marijuana in South Africa?
For the average person, many laws seem to be joined at the hip. Most people believe that if cannabis is made legal for recreational use, it logically follows that it should be made legal in all respects, including commercial trade.
The legal system tends to disagree. Laws that seem to go hand-in-hand are judged and legislated individually with very little bearing on one another.
As a result, even though the Constitutional Courts decided to legalise personal recreational use of marijuana, that doesn’t mean that they have made any sort of decision regarding its trade.
What you end up with then, is the decriminalisation of marijuana in private while the commercial aspect is still under evaluation. Thus, buying and selling weed in South Africa is still illegal.
Marijuana seeds, however, are actually legal for purchase as it is assumed that the buyer will be using them for personal cultivation.
The Arguments For and Against Marijuana
The three most common arguments against the full-scale legalization of cannabis are –
- Availability to children – Cannabis detractors argues that the complete commercialization of marijuana will make it virtually impossible to keep it out of the hands of the country’s youth. This is concerning as preliminary studies seem to suggest that marijuana consumption in childhood could lead to cognitive degeneration and a drop in IQ.
- Negative effects – While many weed smokers will attest to the wonderful applications of marijuana and the various benefits that follow, not all individuals have pleasant reactions to cannabis. Some people may find that marijuana can cause issues such as nausea, memory problems, anxiety, impaired judgment as well as many others.
- Addiction and acute intoxication – In rare cases, individuals may intake a dangerous level of cannabis or have severe reactions. This normally happens to younger, inexperienced smokers, who try it for the first time and ingest far too much, or in addicts who do the same. These cases can cause extremely negative reactions and can even lead to hospitalization.
The three most common arguments in favour of full cannabis legislation are –
- Decriminalization – If you are of the mind that marijuana should not be illegal in any form, it logically follows that citizens currently imprisoned on cannabis-related charges are essentially innocent, this is evident by the government’s current plan to expunge criminal records for those arrested before the most recent legal changes. It makes sense then that if marijuana is fully legalized, the government could begin the job of freeing those charged on distribution charges and expunging their records.
- Health Benefits – Although weed has a bit of a nasty reputation for its potentially negative effects, it has also been reported to positively affect individuals in a variety of ways, the most notable of these are reductions in anxiety and pain.
- Revenue and job creation – More money is always a good thing. As it currently stands, marijuana has created a massive black market in South Africa. This creates issues such as a lack of regulation and unfair business practices. The pro-weed argument goes something like this; If we make cannabis completely legal, the black market will dry up and the government can start to ensure that children do not have open access to it. Additionally, taxes and formal establishments could potentially aid the economy and create a whole host of new jobs.
Will Marijuana Ever be Fully Legalised in South Africa?
Many cannabis advocates are not thrilled with the changes made so far and demand that the country must make moves to commercialise marijuana as other nations have done. They also note that the current legal system unfairly impacts lower-income individuals that may not have access to a garden or gardening materials required for personal cultivation.
There is already a Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill that has been proposed in parliament, unfortunately, it does not make any outward provisions for commercial use and as such, it does not seem as though full legalisation is on the horizon.
It should be noted, however, that the legislation accomplished so far has been achieved only recently. Politically savvy readers will know that most governments do not work particularly fast (or well).
Recreational marijuana was completely illegal just a few years ago, so if the country doesn’t have anything in the pipeline for further legislation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it never will. It may just need a little extra time.
In Conclusion – Is Marijuana Legal in South Africa and Should it be?
Recreational cannabis is legal in South Africa so long as you grow it on your own property and consume it yourself. You may not buy or sell cannabis and ownership of excessive amounts might result in you being labelled as a distributor.
Medical marijuana is legal so long as it is prescribed by a registered health professional. CBD oils and seeds may be legally traded so long as the oil contains less than 0.2% THC. Further legislation is pending which may change aspects of these restrictions but it does not seem as though widespread commercialization is going to be achieved anytime soon.
There is debate over the inherent good or evil of marijuana which affects public policy. Those against the legalization of weed argue that it would create addicts, negatively affect the health of the smokers and importantly, that it would become all too available to minors.
Those in favour of legalization argue that there are many positive health effects gained via the consumption of cannabis. They also note that fewer innocent citizens will be arrested and charged with criminal charges following decriminalisation and that the policy could stimulate the economy while destroying the current black market.
Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although in many instances, our posts cite the constitution, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.
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