Reader Ernie Edwards suggested a story for us to pursue after reading the Port Alfred Community Policing Forum’s concerns about drug abuse and related crimes in last week’s edition.
Last year the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that the consumption of dagga, limited to private personal use, is no longer a criminal offence.
The ruling was celebrated by many, perhaps millions of people who use dagga recreationally as well as people who believe in the efficacy of cannabis oil to treat medical conditions.
Of course, it did not help medical marijuana suppliers who have seen a market for cannabis oil and make the oil for other people, and certainly not the growers and dealers who sell recreational dagga to most users, but it provided relief to people worried that a neighbour would inform the police about a suspicious plant growing over the fence – as has happened many times in our community – or be arrested for a bankie in their pocket.
The unanimous judgement, handed down by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, states that adults are now legally allowed to grow, use and cultivate cannabis on their own property.
A question that arose at the time and has still not been definitively answered is, how much constitutes personal use? One plant or more? How many rolled joints?
Edwards raised other interesting points. He said the ruling allows a person to “grow on his/her own premises for own consumption”. He asked if this meant that the person must be the owner of the premises and that this therefore excludes tenants or people leasing a business premise.
Zondo did answer this when he said “the right to privacy is not confined to a home or private dwelling. It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private space”.
Even a tenant has private space.
What about lighting one up in your own car, but in a public parking lot?
Police are still tasked with upholding laws relating to the use of dagga, and much has been left to their discretion. When we asked police spokeswoman Captain Mali Govender this week, she did not have a ready answer for us.
Zondo himself said: “If a police officer finds a person in possession of cannabis and he or she thinks it is not for personal consumption… he or she may arrest the person. Ultimately, it will be the court that will decide whether the person possessed the cannabis for personal consumption.”
We will follow up the issue and report when we have more definitive answers.
– Jon Houzet