Apr 25, 2019
Cannabis law – what Sithole told the police
Parliament has amended legislation regarding dagga use and police officers have received instruction from the Police Commissioner
We wrote last year about the Constitutional Court ruling regarding dagga, or cannabis. The ConCourt judgement effectively decriminalised the possession and cultivation of cannabis in private by adults for personal consumption. The definition of “in private” extends beyond one’s place of residence and includes public spaces, as long as the possession is in a private place, e.g. a pocket, and is discreet.
However, a court judgement, even by the highest court in the land, is not in itself legislation. It was necessary for Parliament to amend legislation before the law could officially be declared changed in response to the ruling. In the interim, police were in the arguably awkward position of having to use their judgement and discretion when faced with circumstances of cannabis possession.
National Prosecuting Authority issues guidelines
Parliament has acted swiftly to change the relevant legislation concerning cannabis and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has issued guidelines to prosecutors to ensure criminal procedure reflects the amended laws. These guidelines have also been delivered to the South African Police Service (SAPS) by Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole. If you use dagga there are important things you should know.
Cannabis law rewritten
The two primary pieces of legislation concerning cannabis law are the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 1992 and the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act 1965. Both have been officially amended to reflect the Constitutional Court judgement. Other legislation, i.e. the Children’s Act 2005, the Child Justice Act 2008 and the National Road Traffic Act 1996, has also been impacted in a lesser way. The Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act and Medicines and Related Substances Control Act now specifically allow for the possession and cultivation of cannabis for private use. Personal consumption of dagga has been decriminalised.
Still an offence…
It is very important to note that dealing in cannabis is still a criminal offence, as is the use of cannabis by children or in the presence of children. Furthermore, driving under the influence of dagga contravenes the National Road Traffic Act, which prohibits “driving under the influence of a drug which has a narcotic effect”.
Smoking cannabis in public is not permitted – it is only the possession and not the use of the substance that is allowed in public, provided it is in a private space (pocket, bag, vehicle). So smoking in the street, in bars or at a rock concert is still an offence.
Determining private use
Because “private use” can take place outside the home, police officers must still rely on their judgement when they find someone in possession of cannabis. The legislation has not specified a quantity that defines private consumption or, conversely, one that constitutes dealing in the substance. Police officers must use discretion in deciding if the amount possessed is for personal consumption or not, and must furthermore ask a series of appropriate questions to satisfy themselves on the matter.
If the police officer is satisfied that the cannabis is for private consumption, then no arrest may be made and the substance may not be seized. If there is any doubt as to the intention to use the cannabis privately, the officer must not make an arrest but must rather open a docket and bring the individual to court by means of summons.
Cannabis law summarised
In summary, here’s what the amended legislation has decriminalised…and still prohibits:
- Adults may use or possess cannabis in private for personal consumption
- Adults may cultivate cannabis in a private place for personal consumption
- Private use is not confined to a home or private dwelling
- No quantity has been prescribed as constituting private use
- Possession or use by a child (under age 18) is still prohibited
- Use of cannabis around a child is prohibited
- Dealing in cannabis is prohibited and is still a serious criminal offence
- Cannabis use “not in private” is an offence
Police are accorded a large amount of discretion, which may lead to inconsistencies in implementation. Where there is a clear indication that the cannabis does not qualify as personal consumption (which the guidelines define as “large quantities” and/or an “unsatisfactory explanation”), then normal police procedure must be followed. This includes seizure of the cannabis and the registering of criminal charges and may or may not include arrest, depending on circumstances (e.g. if the suspect poses a flight risk). How these guidelines may be interpreted by different police stations or officers remains to be seen.
Legal advice is still a good idea
The amendments to cannabis use legislation are fresh and the police directive has only recently been issued. It is reasonable to expect police officers to require a period of adjustment. Therefore, any encounter with the law regarding dagga possession and use is best handled with the help of an experienced bail attorney. Cape Town Bail Attorneys, Simon Dippenaar & Associates Inc. is a law firm in Cape Town are experts in criminal defence, with a reputation for handling after-hours bail. You can contact bail lawyers 24/7and know that your call will be answered. Call Cape Town Attorney Simon Dippenaar on +27 (0) 86 099 5146 or +27 76 116 0623.
The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.