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Dagga bill does not reflect spirit of Constitutional Court ruling – lobby group

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While affluent communities will benefit from the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill as it stands, its requirements effectively exclude millions of people who lack the space to grow and consume cannabis in strict conditions of privacy, the SA Drug Policy Initiative says.

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THE CURRENT draft bill on cannabis does not reflect the spirit of the 2018 Constitutional Court ruling which declared existing legislation criminalising the use, possession and cultivation of the product for private use unconstitutional, a lobby group said on Monday.

While affluent communities will benefit from the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill as it stands, its requirements effectively exclude millions of people who lack the space to grow and consume cannabis in strict conditions of privacy, the South African Drug Policy Initiative (Sadpi) says.

“What’s more, it discriminates against the indigent by imposing a de facto prohibition on their use and cultivation of cannabis; and leaves vulnerable communities at risk of excessive penalties and continued human rights abuses by the criminal justice system,” Sadpi said.

“Equally as important, it has little prospect of reducing the scope for organised crime and corruption. Therefore, it is obvious that a sensible, non-discriminatory approach, rather than one focused on criminalisation and punishment, is needed to control the use and trade in cannabis products.”

Last week Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services extended the deadline for written submissions on the bill from Friday to November 30.

The bill permits adults to privately possess cannabis plant cultivation material, cultivate a prescribed quantity of cannabis plants, possess a prescribed quantity of cannabis, and to smoke and consume the product.

It also seeks to protect adults and children against potential harm caused by of cannabis and provides for the expungement of criminal records of people convicted of the possession or use of cannabis.

On Monday, Sadpi said the regulatory framework for the use, production and trade in cannabis should be based on those laws and by-laws that control far more harmful drugs and alcohol.

“Although alcohol-related regulations are by no means perfect, they provide examples of laws that seek a balance between the controlled trade of a recreational drug and measures to mitigate the potential harms of that drug,” it said.

“The laws around cannabis should build and improve on those that are already in place to regulate the liquor industry. This includes limited private production, as well as requirements and standards governing commercial production, marketing, packaging, sale, and so on.”

It said a months-long ban – now lifted – on alcohol and tobacco products under regulations aimed at containing Covid-19 had shown South Africans the “inevitable harmful consequences that even a temporary prohibition of recreational drugs can inflict on a country”.

“Chief among those consequences are violations of human rights, adverse impacts on the economy and the enabling of organised crime structures,” it said.

“Parliament now has the opportunity to produce a cannabis bill that is not only sensible, fair and non-discriminatory; but one that will remove the cannabis trade from the untaxed, informal sector and allow it to make a significant contribution to the upliftment of rural communities, the South African economy and the national fiscus.”

Sadpi is a voluntary association that advocates for the legal regulation of all drugs and the institution of humane, rational drug laws to reduce drug-related harms and the proliferation of organised crime and gangsterism.