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Calls for Presidential Veto on South Africa's Contentious Cannabis Bill

Published March 20, 2024
2 months ago

South African activists are calling on the president to refrain from signing the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill into law, flagging it as "malicious" and a potential threat to civil liberties. The controversial bill stipulates the regulation of cannabis-related activities, detailing a strict penalty structure set to impact cultivators, users, and even guardians of cannabis-consuming children.

The nuanced bill categorizes offences into Class A, B, C, and D, all associated with corresponding penalties that range from fines to imprisonment up to a staggering 15 years for Class A offences. The Class A category is largely reserved for those dealing in commercial amounts or administering cannabis to children. Class B tackles trafficable amounts, while Class C and D offences encompass lesser but similarly restrictive measures associated with the private cultivation, possession, and consumption of the plant.

This legislation arrives in the wake of the country's 2018 Constitutional Court ruling that legalized the private cultivation, possession, and use of cannabis by adults. Yet, activists argue the new bill appears to counter this societal progress, imposing severe limitations on the permitted quantity of cannabis plants for personal use and setting harsh penalties for transgressions.

Besides criminalizing the possession, cultivation, and use of quantities above preset limits, the bill demands that adults take reasonable measures to conceal cannabis plants from public view and children, brandishing negligence in these zones with substantial penalties.

Furthermore, the bill offers regulation for the expungement of criminal records related to cannabis possession or use, enabling those previously convicted for minor offences to potentially clear their names.

Critics are vocal about the imbalance this bill creates, clashing with personal freedoms and the right to privacy. They fear it could lead to increased criminalization of citizens for minor, non-violent cannabis-related activities, overload the justice system, and perpetuate socio-economic inequality.

The mandatory measures prescribed for cultivation, storage, and transportation of cannabis impose stringent controls even within the privacy of homes. This, activists emphasize, may be deemed an excessive invasion of personal autonomy and could result in legal challenges.

As it stands, the bill awaits presidential scrutiny. Its fate now hinges on whether the president deems its provisions compatible with the national commitment to human rights and personal freedoms, or if he upholds the activists' concerns and opts for a veto—a move that could send legislators back to the drawing board to conceive a bill that better aligns with the values of South African democracy.

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