High praise from the Rastafarian community after ConCourt's dagga ruling

Garreth Prince, an applicant to have dagga decriminalised (Jenni Evans, News24)
Garreth Prince, an applicant to have dagga decriminalised (Jenni Evans, News24)

"Today Ras Prince conquered Goliath."

These were the chants that echoed outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning after it decriminalised the use and cultivation of dagga in a private space.

Under a haze of smoke, Rastafarians praised their outspoken paralegal, Gareth Prince, for fighting for their rights.

"This is no longer the Gareth Prince, but the ganja (dagga) Prince," they shouted.

Several members of the Rastafarian community were seen outside the highest court in the land, clad in their colourful regalia, smoking what they regard as a holy herb.

In the judgment on Tuesday, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo found that sections 4(b) and 5(b) of the Drugs Act, and Section 22A(9)(a)(i) of the Medicines Act were unconstitutional and invalid, to the extent that they prohibited the possession of cannabis by an adult for the adult's personal consumption in private.

Zondo said the court found these statutory provisions to be constitutionally invalid to the extent indicated, because they infringed the right to privacy entrenched in Section 14 of the Constitution.

The court dispensed with the Western Cape High Court's limitation of its order to the use, cultivation or possession of cannabis at home or in a private dwelling. It held that the right to privacy extended beyond the boundaries of a home.

It suspended its order of invalidity for a period of 24 months to give Parliament an opportunity to correct the constitutional defects in the two acts.

It would therefore not be a criminal offence to use or be in possession of cannabis for personal consumption in a private space.

This also extended to cultivating cannabis in a private place for personal consumption in private.

When asked what the ruling meant for the Rastafarian community, Prince smiled and said: "No more arrest man, no more police constantly having eyes on us. At least now we can have some breathing space and do what we do best."

"When injustice becomes law, then resistance becomes duty."

He said they would celebrate with song, dance and prayer.

So-called "dagga couple" Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs were also given leave to intervene in the case.

Clarke said the Rastafarian community had been victimised for too long.

"This means so much to us, practically for the Rastafarian community. I think your religion is your private thing and your community is your private thing."

"All that we hope is that this message gets through the police as soon as possible," Clarke said.

Concourt dagga ruling "a sad day" for NGO

Not everyone was happy about the court's ruling.

The Sinoville Crisis Centre (SCC) said it was "devastated" by the ruling and was of the view that this would open the door to other drugs.

"Several of the recent victims the SCC assisted, thought that they had only used cannabis, but when they were tested they tested positive for a variety of other drugs. That is because drug dealers mix other drugs with cannabis to lure their victims," Chief Executive Officer Colleen Strauss said in a statement on Tuesday.

The SCC has expressed concern on how children would be protected in this light of the new ruling.

The NPO also questioned how law enforcement would be able to determine cannabis being sold or being used for private consumption. It concluded that the judgement would only place a bigger burden on society.

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