Johannesburg: South Africa’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled that the country’s ban on possession, consumption and private cultivation of cannabis was “unconstitutional”, in effect decriminalizing the recreational use of the popular psychoactive substance.
The first step towards easing South Africa’s stringent restrictions on marijuana consumers came in a landmark judgment last year by the Western Cape High Court, which found that the prohibition on using and growing the plant at one’s own residence violated the right to privacy.
The Constitutional Court has now upheld that decision and expanded its scope, Efe news reported.
“The right to privacy is not confined to a home or private dwelling,” said Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo when delivering the ruling. “It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private space.”
Activists in favour of normalizing the status of cannabis had gathered in front of the court building, many of them sporting the red, yellow and green colours associated with Rastafarianism — an Afrocentric religious movement born in Jamaica in the 1930s and popularized by reggae superstar Bob Marley among others — that places a strong spiritual value on the ritual smoking of ganja, a Caribbean word for cannabis.
In South Africa, marijuana is popularly known as “dagga”.
According to the report, exultant activists rejoiced as they learned of the verdict, with some seen smoking marijuana from a large bong-style pipe made from a coconut.
Some were holding up placards with slogans such as “Give Me My Medicine”, “God Created Cannabis for Us – Genesis 1:29”, “Cannabis Is My Right” and “Free The Weed”.
The historic case was brought by Jeremy Acton (the leader of Iqela Lentsango: The Dagga Party of South Africa) and Rastafarian attorney Gareth Prince, while Myrtle Clarke and Julian Stobbs, known as “The Dagga Couple”, also signed onto the lawsuit.
The Dagga Couple were arrested at their home in 2010 for possessing over 115 grams of weed and were therefore charged with drug dealing and intent to sell.
They eventually turned the case on its head when they sued seven different sectors of the South African government and challenged the constitutionality of cannabis prohibition, with Tuesday’s ruling representing an indisputable victory on that front.