The South African Police Service has confirmed that they will no longer be bothering to arrest anybody for personal-use cultivation or possession of cannabis.

“In short, possession, use and cultivation of cannabis by an adult, for personal consumption, in private, is permitted. In contrast, dealing in cannabis is not permitted, therefore commercialization of cannabis is still not legal in South Africa,” Brigadier Athlende Mathe told IOL on Wednesday (a brigadier is an officer in the British army above colonel and below major general).

According to the IOL report, cannabis has been decriminalized in South Africa for several years but a new SAPS police directive has cleared up a bit of confusion that began in 2018 when the South African Constitutional Court declared a law banning cannabis use in private as unconstitutional. 

“I am of the view that the prohibition of the performance of any activity in connection with the cultivation of cannabis by an adult in private for his or her personal consumption in private is inconsistent with the right to privacy entrenched in the Constitution and is constitutionally invalid,” said Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in his 2018 ruling.

This ruling essentially made private use of cannabis legal in the country but police still technically had the power to arrest people for it because the regulations didn’t contain enough detail surrounding what specifically constituted legal vs illegal activity.

The new police directive would allow South African cannabis consumers to grow and consume their own cannabis provided they do it in a private space. What constitutes a private space is, as with all laws, somewhat up to interpretation.

“No arrests are to be made for personal and private cultivation and/or possession of cannabis, which activities are not criminal,” Brigadier Mathe said. “Furthermore, no arrests of alleged cannabis offenders should be effected merely for the reason to achieve predetermined targets and without assurance that there is indeed a crime that will be enrolled and prosecuted by the National Prosecuting Authority,” Mathe said, referring to police quotas maintaining officers make a certain amount of arrests each month for certain types of crimes.

According to the IOL report, a private space basically just means four walls and a roof, or anything that prevents others from accessing it. This could be a house, a shed, a car, a 4×4 Vivosun grow tent placed haphazardly outside with the roof cut off. It’s a little bit arbitrary and the cultivator does not need to technically own the space to be permitted to cultivate there. As long as you’re not selling the cannabis itself to anybody, SAPS said they will not arrest you.

These changes can be credited to updates in Section 1 of the Drugs and Trafficking Act, No. 140 of 1992, which expanded the definition of the phrase “deal in” to include a more rigid definition which IOL listed as follows:

“Under the newly defined Act, the phrase “deal in” involves any act in connection with the trans-shipment, importation, cultivation other than the cultivation of cannabis by an adult in a private place for his or her personal consumption in private, collection, manufacture, supply, prescription, administration, sale, transmission or exportation of the drug.”

As many Americans living in legal states can attest to, South Africa cannabis consumers still have a long confusing path to walk before they can truly breathe easy but this still marks a sizable step forward for cannabis legalization. South Africa is one of only six countries on the African continent where cannabis isn’t fully illegal. They are also the only African country to have decriminalized cannabis for recreational use. According to the IOL report, cannabis distributed by religions, tradition or cultural healers in small quantities is also regarded as private and personal, topping off a long list of gaping legal loopholes that will make for some very interesting years to come in South Africa. 

Maybe I’ll take a trip one of these days on the off chance I find somebody growing some serious heat in a minivan somewhere, but my buddy once told me they have lions just casually walking around over there so maybe not.

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