A recent ruling which decriminalises private dagga use has received a mixed response.
In a ruling passed on Wednesday, the Constitutional Court found it to be legal to cultivate and consume dagga for personal use, in effect decriminalising the private use of dagga.
The court has given Parliament two years to amend the relevant legislation on possession of the substance.
The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has welcomed the decision to allow the possession or smoking of dagga in private.
“This decision is an important step in affirming the rights of individuals to make decisions on issues that affect them and their lives. People should be free to decide without interference from the state whether or not to use a substance such as cannabis in the privacy of their own home, in the same way as they can choose whether or not to consume alcohol at home. This right is legitimately restricted only when it impinges on others, such as by driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol,” the IRR says in a statement.
“The ruling shows the court believes individuals are better equipped than the state to make decisions about their own lives. In the same way, we argue, individuals should be further empowered to make decisions about their children’s education, their healthcare, and who represents them in Parliament.”
According to Jeremy Acton of the Dagga Party, the ruling allows for “adults to carry dagga for personal use on their private person, even in public”. He likens this to smokers carrying cigarettes.
The drug may also be consumed in private spaces, such as in homes, he explains.
The ruling speaks to the constitutional right to not have your person, possessions or property searched without cause, such as criminal suspicion, Acton says.
The ruling, while primarily concerned with issues of privacy, also looks to create equality between the recreational consumption of dagga and that of alcohol and cigarettes.
However, there remains a great deal of uncertainty, Acton says, as the quantity of dagga defined as that for personal use is not yet clear.
This includes not just dagga used for smoking, but also hemp products or the inclusion of marijuana in ointments.
“What is justified consumption of a plant?” he queries.
According to the ruling by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, this amount will need to be decided on by Parliament.
Although the buying and selling of dagga was not decriminalised in the ruling, Acton adds that there is also some degree of uncertainty about what financial transactions will be permitted in a private space. Concerns
Some organisations and individuals reacted negatively to the news and confusion that it has caused since.
The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) called the ruling a “sad day for South Africa”.
In a strongly worded statement the organisation says one third of all patients treated nationally by the organisation have used dagga alone or in combination with other drugs.
There are numerous issues in the ruling the organisation says should be focused on and haven’t been thought through.
One is the impact of smoking dagga on children. “[A] concern is not only the fact that adults using cannabis at home could expose their children to secondary smoke (a health concern as cannabis is even more damaging due to higher tar levels than tobacco), but that it could create an acceptable drug culture which can be misunderstood by children and youth and could lead to experimentation with other substances,” the organisation says.
Children who may have experimented later might also be tempted to start sooner and according to research, onset age is important in determining later addiction.
Additionally, not all dagga bought in South Africa is “clean” but is often laced with various other drugs “that cause the acceleration of the addiction process such as seen with nyaope (mainly a mixture of dagga and heroin)”.
Sanca says it’s also worried about the impact of dagga use on road and workplace safety as well as crime in general.
“Our crime statistics have just been released ... and show a 10.5% increase in drug-related crimes and 14.8% increase in driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs for the period, not to mention that 57 people are killed daily in South Africa. How, where and who is going to monitor that youth 18 years and older are the only ones using? We do not have the manpower to control and monitor yet another substance such as cannabis,” the group says.