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South Africa Decriminalises Cannabis Ahead of Historic Election

On the eve of a historic election, the incumbent South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, officially signed a long-awaited cannabis decriminalisation bill into law, making it the first South African country to do so.

The passage of South Africa’s ‘Cannabis for Private Purposes Act’ (CfPPA) has been hailed as a major step forward in cannabis liberalisation in the region, seeing cannabis removed from the country’s Drug and Drug Trafficking Act (DDTA).

Having sat on the rollout of such legislation for nearly six years, some have questioned the motives behind this sudden forward momentum, given that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has looked uncertain to win the election for the first time in three decades.

Regardless of the politics behind the move, the reform has seen South Africa solidify its position as a cannabis pioneer on the continent.

What happened?

The government has now finalised legislation and signed into law regulations that have been promised since 2018.

In 2018, South Africa became the second African state to legalise medical cannabis and industrial hemp cultivation.

Later that year, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the prohibition and criminalisation of cannabis were ‘inconsistent with Section 14 of the Constitution’.

As such, the court ruled that adults should be allowed to privately consume and cultivate cannabis, and the government was given two years to construct a regulatory framework.

However, the bill soon got bogged down in legislative limbo, with numerous drafts of the bill rejected by the opponents of the bill like the ‘Dagga Party’, leading to years of delays

It wasn’t until 2020 that a bill to regulate cannabis decriminalisation was introduced, following a commitment from the government to make the cannabis sector a priority due to its economic potential.

Over the next few years, a ‘Cannabis Master Plan’ was established, following the establishment of an interdepartmental committee to guide the project in 2019.

In 2021, a draft of the Cannabis Master Plan, which took experiences from other countries like Canada into account, was finally completed and ready for consultation.

This draft suggested that the launch of a formal cannabis industry would provide a major boost for the country’s economy, with the illicit cannabis market already thought to be worth around R28bn (£1.1bn), and could create around 130,000 new jobs.

Despite numerous statements of intent from Ramaphosa to bring South Africa in to the global cannabis industry, it was not until last week that the bill was officially enforced.

What does the bill allow?

Prior to the passage of the CfPPA, cannabis remained in the DDTA, which stated that ‘no person shall use or have in his possession… any dangerous dependence-producing substance’, which included all cannabis products except dranabinol.

Now that cannabis has officially been removed from the list, private adult-use of cannabis and its derivatives is no longer considered a criminal activity; however, if the cannabis is used for pharmacological or medical purposes, it remains regulated as a Schedule 6 drug, alongside heroin.

Anyone 18 or over can now possess up to 100g of dried cannabis flower in a public place and up to 600g of dried flower per person in private.

Consumption of cannabis in any private location that doesn’t pose a risk to others is also now legal, but its sale remains illegal, and there are not yet any plans to regulate an adult-use commercial market.

South African’s will be allowed to grow up to four flowering plants per person, with a limit of eight per household. The gifting of up to 30 seeds or seedlings, one flowering plant or 100g of dried flower will also now be allowed.

Exceeding these limits will still carry a criminal penalty, and users must ensure cannabis remains inaccessible to children.

According to the government, the act will ‘also facilitate targeted reforms in regulatory frameworks such as the Plant Breeders Rights Act and the Plant Improvement Act’, while providing an ‘alternative manner by which to address the prohibited use, possession or dealing in cannabis by children’.

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