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Category Archive: Marijuana Legalisation

Britons who legally smoke cannabis in the US ‘risk being deported’

Warning comes amid rise in expulsions under federal law – even in states where drug is legal

Don’t be fooled by the use of “Britons” in the headline. This article first appeared in the Guardian, a UK newspaper, hence the focus on Britons, but the warning applies to all visitors to the US. As cannabis legislation has relaxed here in South Africa, we are even more likely to feel “safe” when visiting a US state that has also legalised marijuana. Remember the US is a highly devolved jurisdiction, with many laws set by the states and, as a result, legislation varies considerably from state to state. But there is an anomaly that exists with cannabis law: at federal level it is still illegal, and immigration falls under federal law. Read on for more important information if you are planning to visit the US.


A legal expert at an international immigration firm has warned British tourists and employees that if they smoke marijuana in the US, even in states where it has been legalised, they risk being barred from the country for life.

UK visitors can still be arrested and deported from the US even if they consume cannabis in states such as California and Colorado, where the drug is legal, said Charlotte Slocombe, a senior partner at Fragomen in London.

Slocombe says her firm and others that deal with US immigration laws have seen a rise in cases where British holidaymakers and green card holders, working legally in the US, are being expelled or denied entry because of cannabis consumption in states where it is legal.

She said in a scenario where Americans were caught by police smoking cannabis at a party, in a state where it was legal, they could not be arrested. British people and other foreign tourists at the same party, however, could be arrested, deported and branded unfit to re-enter the US.

The warning comes as a growing number of US states are expected to legalise cannabis, among them New York and New Jersey, which will follow 11 states, including Washington DC, that have made the drug legal. Despite that change, under US federal law the drug remains illegal – meaning that foreign visitors can be sanctioned.

“Canada legalised cannabis in 2018 but as the US customs and Border Protection keep saying, US federal law has not changed,” said Slocombe. “What is confusing to people is that while states in the USA have legalised cannabis it remains illegal federally.

“Even if you are a foreigner in a state where it’s legal, it’s still illegal for you federally. If, for example, you buy cannabis from a legal dispensary and that dispensary asks for your passport details as ID that information might be discoverable. It could then trigger, as can admission of drug taking, immigration issues because immigration is covered by federal law not state law.

“This is how people get caught out even though they think they are doing something which is now legal in that state. Equally that would include green card holders and those who hold visas to live and work in the US. Even for an American it is federally illegal, but because they are not subject to US federal immigration laws they would not be as vulnerable.”

Slocombe said federal law trumped state law, and as a foreigner this could trigger inadmissability under US immigration legislation.

“Don’t take any risks, while you are not breaking state law you are still breaching federal law. It’s too dangerous because the consequences are enormous and you might be ineligible for ESTA entry and a visa forever,” she said.

Slocombe warned it was not just cannabis consumers who ran the risk of being deported and potentially permanently barred from the US. Investors, shareholders or firms that supply equipment for legal cannabis producers in also run the same risk.

“There is one example I am aware of where two known investors in the US cannabis industry, who are foreigners and on visas, had their investment deemed illegal in federal law. Another example is a farmer who was on a visa and sold a portion of his land to a cannabis producer and filed US tax returns. That came up as an issue when he tried to apply to renew his visa.”

She said Fragomen had even advised non-US technology companies to be careful over supplying IT services to American cannabis companies.

“Customs and Border Protection state that they have the right to question you about your travel to the US and the industry you are in. So if you are going to do something related to the cannabis industry then yes you could find yourself inadmissible to enter the US.”

Reprinted with thanks to the Guardian

If you need help…

Although possession of cannabis for personal use is no longer illegal, the police are still getting to grips with the implications of the change in legislation. Therefore, any encounter with the law regarding dagga possession and use is best handled with the help of an experienced bail attorneyCape 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 24/7 and know that your call will be answered. Call Cape Town Attorney Simon Dippenaar on +27 (0) 86 099 5146.

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A joint account – just how legal is marijuana following the High Court ruling?

Marijuana Legal in South Africa High Court Details
On 31 March the Western Cape High Court ruled that marijuana (dagga or cannabis) can be used by adults in the privacy of their own homes, and may be cultivated for private use. The decision was based on the view that banning use of marijuana is an infringement of the right to privacy. Undoubtedly this was cause for celebration for many people in South Africa. But some of the jubilation may have been premature. This ruling does not mean that marijuana use has been decriminalised. Let’s look at exactly what is and is not allowed as a result of the judgement.

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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.

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Should marijuana be legalised in South Africa?

A very controversial subject – everyone has an opinion and there are many conflicting views. In this article, we’ll outline some background information with special relevance to South Africa.

Marijuana Legalisation South Africa


Marijuana / Cannabis

Marijuana, the dried leaves and flowers of the hemp plant, is popularly known as cannabis or hashish, bhang, hemp, kef, kif, charas and ganga. Less formally, it is known as dope, hash, grass, pot, blow, weed and dagga and it should not be confused with the range of hard drugs and toxic substances available – cocaine, heroin etc.

Medical cannabis, or cannabinoid medicine, comes in the form of pills, liquids or sprays. Use is fairly widespread but there are conflicting views on whether or not these medicines have positive effects.


Uses of marijuana

Four main uses of the plant are:

  • Recreational
  • Medicinal
  • Industrial
  • Spiritual

Recreational use of cannabis can make the user feel relaxed, happy and confident, but the downside is feeling dizzy, tired and nauseous. Some users even experience hallucinations. There is a danger that recreational use could develop into addiction, but no evidence that a marijuana habit leads to more serious substance abuse, e.g., crack cocaine, heroin, etc., as has often been argued by opponents of legalisation.

Versions of marijuana are available under specific circumstances for pain relief and the treatment of certain medical conditions. Extensive research has been conducted worldwide into the benefits of medicinal cannabis.


South Africa and the rest of the world

The legal position regarding drugs and drug use in South Africa is clear: it’s illegal, whether for recreational or medical reasons. However, recent court cases such as Prince v President and the case of Stobbs and Clarke have opened the door for a discussion about the use of marijuana. (As a matter of interest, marijuana / cannabis is the most popular illicit drug in South Africa.)

Most of the arguments about legalising drugs relate to marijuana, which is viewed as a ‘soft’ drug, rather than ‘hard’ drugs such as heroin or cocaine, generally seen as more dangerous substances.

Writing in the South African Medical Journal, Parry and Meyer believe that further research is essential and they suggest a close look at the experiences of countries that have softened or removed the criminal laws surrounding marijuana (Netherlands, United States).

In the United States 24 states and the District of Columbia have legalised marijuana for medical purposes – a process that has been under way since it started in California in 1996. Of these states some – including Washington, Colorado, Oregon and DC – have given recreational use legal approval.

This has impacted the economy to the extent that sales of legal marijuana increased from $1.5bn in 2013 to $2.7bn in 2014. (These figures don’t take account of the cost savings achieved when catching, prosecuting and incarcerating offenders is no longer an issue.)

The economic future for legalising cannabis looks even more impressive: if every US state decriminalised the drug by 2020, it is estimated the market could increase to $35bn.

The Netherlands is an example of the effects of relaxing the law: research has shown hardly any increase in the use of cannabis after the laws fell away. However, a study in Alaska indicated that 12- to 17-year-olds were using the drug significantly more than the national average. As a result, the state re-introduced laws controlling its use.

In the UK attitudes have shifted away from legalisation and in 2009 the law was adjusted to classify marijuana as a Class B rather than the less harmful Class C drug.

The economics of the criminalisation and non-criminalisation could also be included in the debate – it costs vast amounts of money to police and prosecute drug offenders.


Important court cases

Two court cases have recently put the legalisation of marijuana under the spotlight:

  • Prince v President – the plaintiff quoted the South African Constitution in promoting the human rights of a specific religious group (Rastafarians) to use cannabis during worship. The Attorney General opposed this, highlighting the disadvantages of drug usage. The Constitutional Court decided in favour of the state.
  • Stobbs and Clarke, also known as the ‘Dagga Couple’. This case has also reached the Constitutional Court and similar arguments have been presented as in Prince v President, particularly the human rights of users. This case is labelled as the ‘first-ever legal challenge for the re-legalisation of cannabis in South Africa’ – perhaps a sign of things to come.

These cases have caught the attention of the public and highlight the need for further legal and scientific research as well as an informed debate at all levels of society.

Look out for part 2 where we’ll discuss the pros and cons of legalising marijuana.

Further reading and update:

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