The Constitutional Court of South Africa, the country’s highest court, on Tuesday morning ruled that the personal use of cannabis is not a criminal offence.
In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the ban on private possession and consumption, and cultivation of the plant for own use is unconstitutional.
It found that the country’s cannabis ban infringed on section 14 of the South African constitution which gives all citizens the right to privacy.
JUDGMENT: The criminal prohibition of possession, use or cultivation of cannabis by an adult person for personal consumption in private is an infringement of the right to privacy of an adult person and constitutionally invalid. (Minister of Justice v Prince) pic.twitter.com/IwA35T4QE7— Constitutional Court (@ConCourtSA) September 18, 2018
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, however, reiterated that cannabis may not be consumed in public, nor distributed or sold, or used by minors.
The landmark ruling follows an appeal by the South African government against a lower court ruling, that legalised private dagga use, in 2017. Government argued that legalising dagga was not in line with South Africa’s constitutional values, given that it could harm citizens.
South Africa is the third country in Africa to legalise cannabis, following Lesotho in September 2017, and in Zimbabwe in April this year.
Marijuana is widely cultivated across the country for both domestic use and export. According to a report by the US state department, South Africa is a large source of herbal cannabis for the United Kingdom and continental Europe.
A South African marijuana strain called Durban Poison has been rated among the "20 greatest marijuana strains of all times", by the US cannabis publication High Times.
While illegal, marijuana is an important cash crop for rural communities, particularly in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
Cannabis use is prohibited in most countries, but has been legalised for recreational purposes in Canada, Georgia, Uruguay, and 29 states in the United States.
In many countries, particularly Spain and the Netherlands, a policy of limited enforcement has been adopted.
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