Last Updated on
After a unanimous ruling by the country’s highest court, South Africa has become the latest country to decriminalize the use of cannabis. What started as a minor case in a provincial court eventually became a national movement to deem the prohibitive laws surrounding marijuana unconstitutional.
Residents and visitors of South Africa will now be permitted to cultivate and consume marijuana — known locally as “dagga” — in private places. “Private places” extend beyond homes to include businesses; however it is still strictly forbidden in public. Much like the movements in the United States, advocates pushed for marijuana to be treated legally just like alcohol and tobacco. There are still age restrictions, and it will still be illegal to sell and supply it.
The potential implications of this judgment are enormous. A country that routinely penalizes low-income civilians with harmful anti-drug laws has now leveraged its own constitution to favor privacy and individual freedoms. This move is significant — particularly for a government that historically has not been very receptive to democratic activism. Individuals, families, and entire communities will now no longer be impacted by a punitive criminal justice system. The government has also stated that existing cases will be grandfathered into the new ruling and reconsidered.
The effects of the decision could quickly carry over to other countries in southern Africa. While South Africa is now the only country that has decriminalized marijuana, neighboring Lesotho and Zimbabwe have legalized its medical use. It could also be a boom for the nascent marijuana industry. Lesotho and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) have begun cultivating farms for what is known as a lucrative export.
In the coming months and years, South Africa is likely to see a large wave in marijuana tourism. In the case of Colorado, when the state legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2015, cities saw a huge influx in the number of dispensaries, marijuana-themed coffee shops, and fully-fledged tours with 50-seat tour buses. A recent poll revealed that over a quarter of the people visiting Colorado said marijuana was part of their decision process. While South Africa is a bit more out of the way for American and European travelers, we’re likely to see a growth in the country’s travel infrastructure accompanied by increased costs.
What does this mean for you? If you’re traveling to South Africa and you’re keen on weed, it’s best to generally play your cards safe. Don’t go smoking in public spaces, and don’t be blatant in the face of authorities. Parliament still has 24 months to determine the specifics surrounding the ruling — including the quantity of pot allowed per individual — so police are adjusting to the new rules. Be sure to not bring your stash on transportation like flights, trains, and buses, as those are not considered private places. And finally, know that this ruling was a controversial one, and the outcome was unfavorable for many of the country’s conservatives. Be respectful, and err on the side of subtlety.