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South African Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill Years After Court Deems Prohibition Unconstitutional



South Africa lawmakers have approved a long-awaited bill to legalize marijuana possession and cultivation by adults.

The National Assembly passed the legislation on Tuesday, setting the stage for possible concurrence by the bicameral Parliament’s National Council of Provinces.

The reform has been years in the making, with lawmakers well past a deadline following a Constitutional Court ruling in 2018 that deemed the prohibition on simple possession and cultivation unlawful and mandating legislative change within two years.

The bill to codify legalization was finally introduced in 2020, but action has been delayed, even as South Africa’s government has included cannabis in a list of sectors to prioritize in the interest of economic expansion.

As revised by the Parliament’s Justice Committee and passed by the National Assembly, the bill does not include specific possession or cultivation limits. That’s expected to be addressed in separate rulemaking from Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamo, according to The Citizen.

Lawmakers have emphasized that the measure does not permit for the lawful sale of cannabis. Adults will need to grow their own plants, and they could only consume in their private residence.

“People should bear in mind what this bill is about. It is about cannabis for private use by adults,” MP Janho Engelbrecht said. “You are not allowed to buy or sell cannabis, because this still remains a criminal activity with severe consequences. If you want to smoke it, you have to grow it, don’t buy it.”

The legislation further provides for expungements of prior marijuana possession and cultivation convictions.

If the National Council of Provinces concurs and passes the bill, it would then be sent to the president for assent, after which point the reform would be enacted.

Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo has said that it’s the government’s hope that the non-commercial legalization bill will serve as a jumping off point for lawmakers to enact more robust regulations to support the establishment of a marijuana market in the country.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his State of the Nation address last year that he wants to his the country enter the global medical hemp and cannabis industry, arguing that it could generate more than 100,000 jobs.

For now, however, the simple legalization bill that’s moving through the Parliament is focused on removing criminal penalties in accordance with the Constitutional Court’s unanimous 2018 ruling, which followed a lower court decision in the Western Cape province covering Cape Town to end prohibition.

Similar to South Africa, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that marijuana criminalization is unconstitutional, giving lawmakers a mandate to revise the laws. That reform has advanced in recent sessions, but it’s yet to be enacted.

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Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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