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  • A man smokes marijuana, known locally as dagga, during a march calling for the legalization of cannabis in Cape Town, South Africa, May 6, 2017.

    A man smokes marijuana, known locally as dagga, during a march calling for the legalization of cannabis in Cape Town, South Africa, May 6, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 September 2018
Opinion

Activists, including members of the Rastafarian movement and traditional healers, welcomed the ruling.

The highest court of South Africa has legalized the use of cannabis by adults in private places Tuesday. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, while delivering the Johannesburg-based Constitutional Court's unanimous verdict, declared the law banning marijuana use in private by adults "unconstitutional and therefore invalid."

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"It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," he said. But using, selling or supplying cannabis in public remains illegal.

The judgment does not specify the amount that can be used by an adult in private use. The court has asked the parliament to decide on the issue. It also ordered the parliament to draft new laws within 24 months to reflect the order.

The Cannabis Development Council of South Africa welcomed the ruling and called on the government to drop charges against people found in possession of the drug.

Jeremy Acton, the leader of the Dagga Party (cannabis is called dagga in South Africa), which campaigns for the use of cannabis, and Rastafarian Garreth Prince, had brought the case to the court asking to legalize the private consumption of marijuana. Later, Jules Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke‚ known as the "Dagga Couple", joined the case.

"It's not enough, we also have privacy in person, as we walk in a public space, therefore we should be allowed to carry cannabis in public," said Jeremy Acton.

In March 2017, a court in Western Cape had ruled that a ban on cannabis use by adults at home was unconstitutional. This verdict decriminalized the private use of cannabis in the province. But the ministers of justice, police, health, and trade challenged that ruling, arguing that there was "objective proof of the harmful effects of cannabis."

The Tuesday ruling also saw opposition from South Africa's government, arguing that the drug was "harmful" to people's health.

However, South Africa’s Medical Research Council has already started trials on marijuana for medical purposes. "We have used cannabis to treat anxiety, colic in children and as an antiseptic in secret for many years," said Phephsile Maseko of the Traditional Healers Organization. "Now we will be able to develop the plant even further."

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