Cannabis in South Africa is illegal for recreational or medical use. Some advocates have pressured the government to modify its laws, which first restricted cannabis in 1922, to allow exemptions for medical use, religious practices, and other purposes.
On 31 March 2017, in a case brought by Gareth Prince, Jeremy Acton, and Jonathan Ruben before the Western Cape High Court, presiding Judge Dennis Davis ruled that any law disallowing the use and cultivation of cannabis by an adult in a private dwelling was unconstitutional and therefore invalid, on the grounds that such infringement of the constitutional right to privacy could not be justified.
This decision must still be confirmed by the Constitutional Court before taking effect, and will then be suspended for 24 months in order to allow Parliament to enact legislation in accordance with the ruling, failing which the invalidity automatically takes effect. The court also ruled that, in the interim, prosecutions related to the transgression of the laws in question should be stayed. The judge further ordered that “it will be deemed to be a defence that the use, possession, purchase or cultivation of cannabis in a private dwelling is for the personal consumption of the adult accused”.
The limited decriminalisation of cannabis will affect sections of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act, the Drugs Act, and the Medicines and Related Substances Act.Improve information
Central Drug Authority
The official position of the CDA is that dagga should be decriminalised, reasoning that criminalisation has been shown to have little effect on the prevalence of drug use, and that decriminalisation could improve public health. However, the CDA does not currently support commercialisation of the plant.
In 2015, the Department of Social Development commissioned the CDA to conduct research into the feasibility of partially legalising dagga. That research is yet to be completed.
Medicines Control Council
The South African regulatory body for drugs, the Medicines Control Council, classifies dagga as a Schedule 7 substance, which means that it has no medicinal value and "is illegal to cultivate, analyse, possess, research, use, sell or supply without authorisation from the Department of Health." In 2016, it published regulations providing for the use of dagga for medical reasons, and expressed a desire to reclassify "cannabinoid medication" as a Schedule 6 substance, which would make it available for medicinal use. However, the Dagga Couple point out that partial decriminalisation in 2017 has reduced the significance of the proposed change in scheduling, and have called for a more drastic reclassification of the drug.
Medicine Research Council
In January 2016, following a systematic review of scientific studies on cannabis, the Medicine Research Council concluded that there was evidence that cannabinoids could be used to treat chronic pain and spasticity in multiple sclerosis.
The regional term dagga (Afrikaans pronunciation: [/ˈdaχa/]) is commonly used for cannabis; it derives from the Khoikhoi word dacha, which was used by the early European colonial settlers in the Western Cape.
Cannabis is thought to have been introduced to Africa by early Arab or Indian Hindu travelers, which Bantu settlers subsequently introduced to southern Africa when they migrated southward.
It was already in popular use in South Africa by the indigenous Khoisan and Bantu peoples prior to European settlement in the Cape in 1652, and was traditionally used by Basotho to ease childbirth. According to author Hazel Crampton, old Afrikaner recipes for teas and foods exist which make use of the plant. Use of the plant was associated with traditional African populations and a lower economic status.
Longitudinal research studies by the Medical Research Council (MRC) report that the number of cannabis users in South Africa was 2.2 million in 2004, and 3.2 million in 2008. In 2003, Interpol rated South Africa as the fourth-largest cannabis producer in the world, and the Institute for Security Studies reported that most cannabis seized in the UK and a third globally had South African origins.
The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union have since 2009 recommended that dagga be legalised. They argue this would free up the police for other work, and would allow the South African government to benefit from cannabis by taxing sales of it.
The Dagga Party (Iqela Lentsango) is registered with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the Western Cape. It was founded in February, 2009 by Jeremy Acton, who remains the party's leader.
In February 2014, the Inkatha Freedom Party's Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini introduced the Medical Innovations Bill, which would legalise cannabis for medical treatment and industrial use. Under the proposed bill, with the patient's informed consent, doctors can administer unproven but harmless cancer treatments such as cannabis if other treatments are not efficacious; informed consent will shield doctors from common law liability and the requirements of their medical profession in such circumstances. Dr Oriani-Ombrosini was diagnosed with lung cancer, and had been on cannabinoid treatment in the last months leading to his death. Oriani-Ambrosini's bill was rejected by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health in November 2017.
The Dagga Party
The Dagga Party of South Africa (more commonly known as the Dagga Party) is a South African political party founded in February 2009 by Jeremy Acton, who remains the party's leader. The Dagga Party was established to allow voters who support the legalisation of dagga to have representation in elections. The party's position is that cannabis users should have the same rights as people who use tobacco and alcohol.
Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke are known as the "Dagga Couple" in South African media. In August 2010, their property was raided and they were arrested on charges of possessing and dealing in dagga. In February 2011, they argued before a magistrate's court that they had a "human right to ingest anything" they chose, provided that it did not harm them, and applied for leave to make their case before the Constitutional Court. Their case was struck from the court roll, pending the result of their constitutional challenge of the legality of cannabis prohibition.
Cape Town marches
Since 2000, as part of the Global Marijuana March initiative, Cape Town has hosted an annual pro-legalisation Cannabis Walk on the first Saturday of May.
About 400 people took part in 2012, a crowd of 500 in 2013, and "a few hundred" people marched in 2015. The participants increased to 3,000 in 2016, and to 6,000 in 2017.
In 2014, a report by the Anti-Drug Alliance of South Africa argued that the criminalisation of cannabis had "created victims rather than solutions", and recommended legalisation.
First law prohibiting the sale of dagga in South Africa put in motion
South Africa banned cannabis nationally, under the Customs and Excises Duty Act.
South African Dagga Party Launched
The Dagga Party of South Africa was officially launched in the Western Cape in early 2009. Leader Jeremy Acton is currently facing a R50 Dagga charge, refuses to pay it