South Africa has become the first African country to legalise cannabis for personal use.

South Africa’s Constitutional Court decriminalised the private use and possession of cannabis (dagga) by adults in 2018, but it’s taken more than five years for the cannabis law to be enacted. President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Cannabis for Private Purposes Act into law on 28 May 2024.

There is good reason to question whether the newly passed law is the best way to regulate private cannabis use and possession. Not only does it prohibit any buying or selling of cannabis for private use as “dealing in” cannabis, punishable by a 10-year prison term, but it also restricts how much cannabis may be possessed or cultivated by an adult in private for their own consumption. The bill professes to protect the right to privacy of adults to use and possess cannabis. However, its own provisions make the realisation of this right very difficult, if not impossible, in practice.

This newsletter features several articles which track the journey of South Africa’s cannabis laws.

Mary Nel

Mary Nel is a senior lecturer in Public Law

Cannabis industry plans for South Africa have stalled: how to get them moving again

Motshedisi Mathibe, University of Pretoria

The industry has the potential to create jobs, alleviate poverty and help reduce the extreme inequality in South Africa

South Africa’s top court legalises the private use of marijuana. Why it’s a good thing

Mary Nel, Stellenbosch University

The Constitutional Court judgment is to be applauded for doing away with the assumption that marijuana use by adults in private is always wrong.

What history teaches us about shaping South Africa’s new cannabis laws

Thembisa Waetjen, University of Johannesburg

Policy makers need to protect and promote the interests of people whose indigenous knowledge and toil developed a thriving national cannabis economy - in the face of harsh police crackdowns.

Cannabis policy changes in Africa are welcome. But small producers are the losers

Clemence Rusenga, University of Bristol; Gernot Klantschnig, University of Bristol; Neil Carrier, University of Bristol; Simon Howell, University of Cape Town

Ensuring the participation of ordinary citizens and producers in the industry is the big challenge facing African states.

Cannabis in South Africa: the duplicity of colonial authorities

Utathya Chattopadhyaya, University of California, Santa Barbara

There are two histories of dagga in South Africa - the one of criminalising it and the other of the state trying to make money off it.


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