SA ready to expunge dagga criminal records

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Everyone who has been convicted for the possession of dagga but is not serving a prison sentence could apply to the department of justice to have their criminal records expunged. Picture: File
Everyone who has been convicted for the possession of dagga but is not serving a prison sentence could apply to the department of justice to have their criminal records expunged. Picture: File

Thousands of people with convictions for dagga possession could soon have their criminal records expunged.

This comes in the wake of last year’s Constitutional Court ruling, in which the court found that the ban on the use and possession of dagga in private was unconstitutional.

Government is now considering all legislative options to expunge the criminal records of people who never appeared in court but paid admission of guilt fines for the possession of dagga, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said on Friday.

Lamola was answering a question from Advocate Elphus Mulaudzi, the EFF’s spokesperson on justice, about the 1 041 prisoners currently serving sentences for possession of dagga, and the thousands of people who have criminal records.

Lamola said everyone would have to apply to have such a sentence or criminal record set aside.

Our law makes no provision for a general amnesty or for the scrapping of criminal convictions, Lamola said in a written reply to Mulaudzi’s parliamentary question on Friday.

Everyone who has been convicted for the possession of dagga but is not serving a prison sentence could apply to the department of justice to have their criminal records expunged
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola

The 1 041 people serving prison sentences would have to apply to President Cyril Ramaphosa for pardons.

“The department is now ready and willing to assist such people who want to apply for presidential pardons,” Lamola said.

This did not, however, mean that all applications would be granted. The Constitutional Court judgment expressly stated that its effect was not retrospective, to ensure that the justice system was not destabilised, said Lamola.

“Somebody who applies to have their criminal record expunged will have to indicate whether the conviction occurred before September 18 last year or thereafter,” Lamola said.

Thousands of people have also paid admission of guilt fines for the possession of quantities of dagga that were less than 10g. These are on their criminal records, even if they were not been found guilty by a court. Lamola said the department was also looking at ways of assisting them.

Such criminal records can derail visa applications, especially for those intending to travel to countries such as the US.

In Canada, where dagga possession laws have been relaxed, there have been comprehensive processes in place since August to expunge the criminal records of those who were previously found guilty of dagga-related offences.

Similar processes are in place in New York and in the state of Illinois, where about 800 000 people could see their criminal records scrapped.

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