No legal sales in new cannabis Bill

South Africans will be allowed to possess up to 600g of dried cannabis in the privacy of their homes for personal use, but can forget about selling their stash legally any time soon if the new cannabis Bill is passed in its present form.

The Regulation of Cannabis Bill, drafted by the ministry of justice, will provide guidelines as to how much cannabis people can grow and possess, but continues to outlaw trading in the medicinal and recreational herb.

The Bill was drafted in response to the Constitutional Court judgment in September 2018 that ended the ban on private cannabis cultivation, possession and consumption.

The court gave the government two years to revise legislation and create a framework for legal cultivation and possession of the plant.

A draft of the Bill was sent to the national director of public prosecutions, the department of health, treasury and other affected departments in October for comment, with a cut-off deadline of January 31.

It will go to Cabinet for approval before being tabled in Parliament and put out for public comment, ahead of a September deadline imposed by the court.

With cannabis legalisation taking place around the world, cannabis activists had hoped that the Bill would provide for small and large-scale commercial cultivation and sale.

According to the African Cannabis Report, released last year, South Africa’s cannabis industry could be worth more than R107-billion once it becomes fully legalised.

Provincial governments in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape want to push ahead with commercial cannabis production and cannabis tourism, but are unable to do so until the central government creates a legal framework for doing so.

The Bill continues to make it a criminal offence to buy or sell cannabis, with jail sentences of up to 10 years remaining in place for trafficking large quantities of the herb.

Possession of more than the individual amount, but less than a traffickable amount, carries a jail sentence of between two and six years.

The Bill allows possession of up to 600g of dried cannabis per person, or a maximum of 1200g per household with two or more adults living in it. One gram of the herb is about enough for three joints.

Public possession is pegged at a maximum of 60g of dried cannabis, but public consumption remains illegal.

In a letter accompanying the draft, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said that both the regulatory model — as outlined in the Bill — and a commercial model were being considered.

The commercial model would allow for regulated commercial cultivation, possession and retailing of cannabis, similar to the regime for tobacco and alcohol.

The regulation model would allow the cultivation and possession of cannabis by individuals for their private and personal use, by determining the amount that can be cultivated, possessed and used.

Lamola said that although the Bill addressed the issues raised by the Constitutional Court, policy decisions still need to be taken about the quantities that could be cultivated or possessed for personal use; the appropriate model that should be implemented and the effect of the Bill or other cannabis regulation models on South Africa’s international legal obligations.

Paul-Michael Keichel of law firm Schindlers, which specialises in medicinal and recreational cannabis law, said the Bill was “entirely responsive” to the Constitutional Court judgment.

“It only caters for personal use or cultivation. It does not contemplate a commercialisation of cannabis,” he said. “It’s a policy decision that is yet to be made as to whether or not to commercialise. The judgment does not require that.”

Lamola’s spokesperson, Crispin Phiri, said that a Bill that “gives effect” to the judgment had been drafted and was undergoing internal consultation.

The Bill, he said, did not address commercialisation of cannabis or licensing, which was being attended to by the relevant departments, including trade and industry, health and social development.

Phiri said the Bill would be revised before being sent out for public comment and that its contents would be communicated once they had been approved by Cabinet.

A consultation memorandum circulated with the Bill states that implementing a commercial cannabis cultivation and retail model would not amount to a contravention of the international drug control regime.

A legal regime would ensure quality cannabis, as well as better education about its effects, and taxes could be levied to provide improved healthcare for problem users, it said.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller and blag artist.
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