To legalise marijuana, or not to legalise? That is the question.

Legalise Marijuana in South Africa

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with marijuana. Information about the advantages and disadvantages of drug use is widely available but everyone interprets that information differently to arrive at their own conclusions, often widely divergent.

In the last article, we looked at the background to marijuana use and discussed recent developments in South Africa and other – mostly developed – countries.

This article will address the pros and the cons of legalisation.


Legalise Marijuana


Arguments against legalising marijuana include:

  • The harmful effects of heavy cannabis use include psychosis in healthy people – further research is needed to understand just how serious this problem might be. Other health dangers include the effects on short-term memory, reaction time, and the heart and lungs. Marijuana’s mood-altering qualities can carry risk: heavy users may feel calm in situations where they need to be alert; and at the upper end of the scale there is the possibility of anxiety and paranoia
  • In a country where HIV is a major concern, use of dagga can suppress the immune system
  • Cannabis is quoted as a ‘gateway’ drug, leading to experimentation with hard drugs (heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines) (though there is little in the way of hard evidence to support this)
  • Use of marijuana has been linked to testicular cancer
  • Use by pregnant women can lead to poor development of the foetus
  • Decriminalising the use of marijuana will free up the legal system and reduce the massive cost of policing drug use but it could also encourage an upsurge in drug use with far-reaching consequences. (What might work in the United States or Europe might not work in South Africa)
  • It will be difficult for police to assess whether a driver is under the influence of the drug rather than alcohol
  • Smoking a ‘joint’ deposits three to five times more tar into the lungs than one normal cigarette. Smoking three to four joints per day causes as much harm to the lungs as a full pack of cigarettes a day and marijuana smoke is more dangerous than tobacco smoke
  • If cannabis is easily available, this might create new users, exposing additional people to the risks described
  • Legalising marijuana may send a message to children that drug use is acceptable – including hard drugs
  • Marijuana use is associated with conditions like memory loss, cancer, immune system deficiencies, heart disease, and birth defects. Even where it has been decriminalised, marijuana trafficking remains a source of violence, crime, and social disintegration



Arguments in favour of legalisation include:

  • Penalties for smoking cannabis far outweigh the crime, according to human rights activists. Human rights (dignity, freedom, security of person, privacy and freedom of speech) are violated by excessive punishment
  • Legal sales of marijuana would introduce a new player into the economy and open up opportunities for small businesses, particularly the hemp industry and manufacture of medicinal products
  • Resources currently occupied in catching and prosecuting drug dealers and users would be released to deal with more serious offences. The money saved could be channelled into education about the effects of using dagga and other drugs, thus reducing the potential harm they cause
  • Legal trade in cannabis would reduce the prevalence of drug dealers and their networks; the legal system has failed to do this and there are no signs that it will succeed
  • Marijuana use eases the pain and discomfort for many people affected by illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS. There is reason to believe that less invasive cancers might be eased with the use of medical marijuana and its use is alleged to be safer than certain prescribed medicines
  • Use of the drug for religious reasons (e.g. spiritual use, Rastafarians) would be destigmatised
  • Legalisation allows greater regulation. Cigarettes come with warnings and alcoholic beverages are clearly marked with the alcohol content. Legal drugs at present list all active and inactive ingredients. Marijuana sold legally could have ingredient lists, warnings and purity levels indicated. There would be less risk of ‘impure’ products or drugs cut with potentially harmful substances
  • Taking marijuana out of the hard drugs market and placing it in the same category as alcohol and tobacco takes away the ‘glamour’ and makes it potentially less appealing to young people in a high-risk category
  • The national purse (and potentially essential services such as health and education) would benefit from the tax raised, if the drug were taxed similarly to alcohol and cigarettes
  • Legalisation of marijuana would lead to greater control over the sale of the drug. Illicit drug dealers will sell to anyone, including children, whereas merchants who legally sell alcohol and tobacco must observe legislated age minimums. Many high school students report that it is easier to obtain illegal drugs than alcohol and tobacco


You decide…

There is a wealth of information online where the debate centres on the positive and negative effects of cannabis use. The possible benefits of medicinal marijuana, so important to carers and sufferers in easing pain and suffering, continue to attract attention; and a more relaxed legal approach to medical marijuana is being adopted in many parts of the world.

And the recreational use of cannabis? The road ahead is not so clearly marked and more research needs to be done. Arguably, more education among the general population is required to facilitate an informed debate before legislators will consider a major change to our laws that the legalisation of marijuana would signify.


More Information

We hope we’ve given you something to think about. If you’d like more information or if you think you might be on the wrong side of the law, contact Simon today on 087 550 2740 or email for expert advice on your rights and responsibilities.


Simon Dippenaar | SD Law Cape Town

Simon Dippenaar has a BBusSc LLB degree and Professional Diploma in Legal Practice from the University of Cape Town, and is an admitted attorney of the High Court of South Africa. He is the founder and director of private legal practice, Simon Dippenaar & Associates, with offices in Cape Town and Gauteng representing South African and international clients.

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