September 23, 2018
Dagga – It’s now legal – The Con Court ruling explained
Dagga legalisation has been big news in the past week. But what exactly does it mean in practice?
Since last week’s Constitutional Court ruling on the possession of dagga for private use, SD Law has been inundated with queries about the practical implications of this decision. How does it differ from last year’s Western Cape High Court ruling? Is possession of dagga now legal? We attempt to answer your questions.
The High Court ruling
If you’ve been following our blog you’ll remember that we wrote recently about the difference between possession of marijuana – dagga or cannabis – and intent to deal (read more). We also covered the 2017 Western Cape High Court ruling that allowed the use of dagga by adults at home (read more).
Last year’s ruling cited the right to privacy guaranteed by our Constitution, and allowed for this right to be used as a defence if charged with possession in your own home. As we’ve pointed out previously, that decision did not legalise marijuana use, but it did pave the way for Parliament to enact a change in legislation.
What the Constitutional Court ruling means
The Constitutional Court decision of 18 September 2018 went further than the 2017 High Court ruling in that it effectively decriminalised the possession and cultivation of cannabis in private by adults for personal consumption. It’s important to note that the Con Court does not make the laws; it can only rule on the constitutionality or otherwise of existing laws. However, if a law is found to be unconstitutional, the onus is then on Parliament to remedy the fault in the law. So, the law criminalising possession of marijuana is still on the statute books, but the order has been suspended. The Court has provided interim relief that renders it unlawful for the police to arrest adults for private cultivation, possession and use of small amounts of cannabis. Parliament should enact a change in legislation within the next two years.
How much is a small amount?
As we explained in our blog post on possession last month, the historical threshold of 115g has been relaxed, in favour of a more pragmatic approach to determining intent. The burden of proof is now on the State to show that the accused intended to supply the dagga in his or her possession to someone else for profit. This might hold true for an amount less than 115g, or a quantity in excess of 115g could still be purely for personal use.
Last week’s ruling did not contain any indication of the quantities that would be considered ‘for private consumption’. It acknowledged that the greater the amount held, the greater the likelihood that dealing would take place. However, it reinforced the onus on the State to prove intent and ensured that police officers would give a potential accused the benefit of the doubt. According to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, “…there will be cases where it will be difficult to tell whether the possession is for personal consumption or not. In the latter scenario a police officer should not arrest the person because in such a case it would be difficult to show beyond reasonable doubt later in court that that person’s possession of cannabis was not for personal consumption.”
The definition of ‘private’
Another point of difference between the Con Court and the High Court rulings is the definition of privacy. Whereas the High Court was quite specific about the right to privacy providing a defence if found in possession in one’s own home, the Con Court did not specify in the judgement what constitutes a private place. Rather, the Court modified last year’s Order to reflect that a ‘private place’ can extend to more than just one’s literal home. It is probably safe to assume that a home, office, pocket, storage facility or car would amount to a private place.
The Con Court ruling also specifically allowed for cultivation of cannabis for private use, and went on to define privacy in the context of cultivation: “An example of cultivation of cannabis in a private place is the garden of one’s residence. It may or may not be that it can also be grown inside an enclosure or a room under certain circumstances. It may also be that one may cultivate it in a place other than in one’s garden if that place can be said to be a private place.”
What is the right to privacy?
The right to privacy simply means the right to live your life without interference from the State or from other individuals or entities. The right to privacy is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “The Right to Privacy. Nobody should try to harm our good name. Nobody has the right to come into our home, open our letters, or bother us or our family without a good reason.”
Given the iniquitous abuse of this right in the apartheid era, it is unsurprising that our Constitution upholds the right to privacy as a pillar of a fair and just society. The Court stated, “A very high level of protection is given to the individual’s intimate personal sphere of life and the maintenance of its basic preconditions and there is a final untouchable sphere of human freedom that is beyond interference from any public authority. So much so that, in regard to this most intimate core of privacy, no justifiable limitation thereof can take place…”
A global trend
South Africa joins 33 jurisdictions around the world where the use of cannabis has been decriminalised or legalised. Canada is the most recent to liberalise its laws on possession and cultivation, with some variance from province to province on the details (e.g. number of plants allowed to be grown and where) but an overall national legalisation framework. The US also has state-by-state legislation, with some states fully decriminalised, some allowing medical use only and some still criminalising all use; but a growing number of states allow recreational use and cultivation, with a varying number of plants permitted to be grown depending on the state.
Remember it is still illegal to deal in dagga! If you grow or carry cannabis for sale or supply to others, you are breaking the law. The relaxation in approach does not extend to dealing in the substance. The right to privacy will not protect you if you sell marijuana, or if you consume it in a public place. Enjoy the new freedom, but don’t abuse it. Consume cannabis responsibly or you could still fall foul of the law.
If you have been charged with possession…
Ordinarily, under the doctrine of objective Constitutional validity, the moment a law is declared unconstitutional, the legal position is that the law has always been so. The implications for criminal law are that any prior convictions are invalid, and will be set aside. To prevent disorder, Courts may postpone or suspend the operation of invalidity. In this case, the Court rejected retrospective operation. This means that previous convictions stand. If you would like more information, feel free to contact us – we’re here to help.
If you need advice regarding a charge of possession or dealing, call Simon immediately on 087 550 2740 or contact us. It is important to know your rights and have legal representation to ensure you are treated fairly and within the law, especially if the police have acted without full knowledge of the recent changes.