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South African Cannabis Bill Awaiting Presidential Assent to Safeguard Youth

Published February 28, 2024
3 months ago

In a significant legislative move, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in South Africa passed the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, aimed squarely at ensuring that the nation’s youth remain shielded from the potential harms associated with cannabis. The bill, which now awaits presidential assent, stands at the cusp of becoming law, following in the wake of two pivotal Constitutional Court judgments.

These judgments have carved out a space for adult citizens, allowing them to possess and cultivate cannabis for their private use, while simultaneously upholding the protection of children against drug use and exposure. The impetus behind the bill is clear and twofold; it seeks to recognize the right of adults to privacy and their choice to use cannabis in personal spaces while ensuring that children do not fall through the legislative cracks, becoming inadvertent victims of lax drug laws.

The legislative journey of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill started in Parliament in the year 2020. It underwent meticulous refinement to guarantee that adults would be held accountable for situations where children were exposed to cannabis, as well as non-consenting adults. Shahidabibi Shaikh, the Chairperson of the select committee on Security and Justice, articulated this balanced approach, highlighting that while the bill solidifies the privacy rights of adults, it unequivocally does not extend the same leniency towards children concerning cannabis usage and possession.

Shaikh elaborated on the built-in safety nets within the bill, mentioning that, in cases where children contravene the bill by possessing, using, or cultivating cannabis, there would be cooperation with the justice department to address such matters outside the conventional boundaries of the criminal justice system.

One of the commendable facets of the bill includes the provision for automatic expungement of criminal records for individuals previously convicted under the misunderstanding that they were involved in dealing cannabis. This move is particularly crucial as it addresses past injustices and integrates past offenders back into society without the stigma of a criminal record.

Despite the collective support for the bill in the political landscape, with parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) backing the legislation, concerns linger about potential unintended consequences. The EFF has voiced apprehension that the elderly in rural areas, traditional users and growers of cannabis, might face criminalization under the new bill. Ensuring that traditional practices do not become ensnared by contemporary law remains an area where the legislation may have to be more nuanced.

The African National Congress (ANC), cementing its stance, has also thrown its weight behind the bill, emphasizing the paramount importance of protecting children from drug use. It’s a consensus that resonates with the overarching theme of the bill - safeguarding society’s youngest members while acknowledging the shifting global attitudes toward marijuana.

The bill now rests on the president’s desk. Its passage would make South Africa one of the countries at the forefront of progressive cannabis legislation, marrying the need for individual freedom with social responsibility. The nation waits with bated breath as the presidential assent will not only transform the legal landscape regarding cannabis but will also signal broader societal shifts in attitudes towards drug use, privacy, and child protection.

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