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A great day, but consequences

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South Africa sticks out like a sore thumb in its decriminalising of dagga, just as it is the only country where same-sex marriage is lawful

The ACDP leader Rev Kenneth Meshoe said he wanted Parliament to hold an urgent debate following the Constitutional Courts ruling on cannabis. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane

Yesterday’s Constitutional Court judgment in the cannabis case will go down in South African history as a profound, far-reaching event.

The scale of its magnitude in the legal direction of our country has almost the same effect as the case of Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie, the December 1, 2005 Constitutional Court ruling that extended the common-law definition of marriage to same-sex spouses.

It will resound as loudly as S v Makwanyane, the landmark 1995 Constitutional Court judgment that established that capital punishment was inconsistent with the commitment to human rights as expressed in our constitution.

The ruling places South Africa among the pace-setters with regard to the private use of dagga. It will join countries such as the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Italy, Australia and Canada, which have legalised the medical use of cannabis. In the more conservative US, 31 states have legalised the medical use of cannabis, although at the federal level its use remains prohibited for any purpose.

In Africa, South Africa sticks out like a sore thumb in its decriminalising of dagga, just as it is the only country where same-sex marriage is lawful.

The ruling, of course, will not please everyone. There are many religious groups to whom the use of dagga is anathema – and they will continue bitterly to oppose its decriminalisation.

On the medical front, some opinion cautions that the cannabis plant has more than 100 different chemicals capable of activating the brain’s receptors and exerting some effect.

They cite what they say is growing evidence linking dagga use with sudden cardiac death, myocardial infarction and strokes.

Yet the Constitutional Court has never pretended to be an arbiter on health or moral issues.

The ruling is clear: an adult may use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption. The cultivation of cannabis by an adult in a private place for his or her personal consumption in private will no longer be a criminal offence.

However, as with alcohol, tobacco, sugar, salt or other bad habits, dagga users will have to exercise their judgement and be prepared to bear the consequences of their choices.

As Alfred A Montapert, author of The Supreme Philosophy of Man, said: “Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices.”