JOHANNESBURG - Last week's court ruling allowing home use of marijuana has sent South Africa buzzing about the possibility that cannabis will now be widely legal in the Rainbow Nation.
To which pro-marijuana activist Julian Stobbs says: Chill.
Friday’s ruling from the Western Cape province High Court does apply across the nation, but the decision is really more about privacy than it is about pot.
The ruling struck down part of an old law that prohibits private and personal use of marijuana. The ruling still has to be solidified by parliament and pass through the constitutional court, which could take up to two years.
South Africa first criminalized the substance in 1908. Police statistics say that drug-related arrests have recently risen, with just under 260,000 people arrested last year, according to the most recent annual crime report. That’s just over 13 percent of all arrests.
Stobbs and his partner, who he says use marijuana recreationally and regularly, made headlines in 2010 after police raided their home and arrested them for marijuana possession. They were later released.
No victim, no crime
Under the ruling, Stobbs says, cases like his won’t be part of that toll anymore.
“So, if you are using cannabis in the privacy of your own home, or indeed if you have grown cannabis in the privacy of your home and it’s never left the building, you now have a loophole in the law that if you do get arrested and you do go in front of a magistrate, you can use the defense that you are hurting nobody, there was no victim, there was no crime, there’s no black market, there are no transactions, no one is making money out of this, you are using the cannabis you grew in the privacy of your own home,” he told VOA.
As it stands, then, this ruling is only helpful if you’re an above-average horticulturalist with no plan to make a dime off the substance. Buying and selling marijuana is still illegal, as is smoking it in public.
Few anti-marijuana activists made their voices heard to protest the move. One online group, called “South Africans Against Dagga and Satan” — “dagga” is the local slang for cannabis — said on social media that the day of the ruling would “Forever be known as the day Satan took over South Africa!” They were shouted down on their Facebook page by supporters of the ruling.
Users of the drug for religious purposes say they welcome the news. In the seaside Rastafarian community of Judah Square, a well-known tour guide and storyteller who goes by Brother Zebulon told VOA that while he is very happy about the ruling, he doesn’t support the widespread use of marijuana.
“My daughter,” he said to VOA, “it’s sacred, so it’s secret, so we really don’t advocate it. Yeah, no, no, no, no, we don’t advocate it, no. It’s a personal ... you know, it’s your meditation.”
In February, South Africa’s government approved a bill that would allow for the limited manufacturing of medical marijuana.
Stobbs says he hopes these are just first steps in the eventual regulation and decriminalization of marijuana, like in the U.S. state of Colorado. Marijuana is now legal in 28 U.S. states for either medical or recreational use.
“That’s exactly what we see,” he said. “And we see billions of rand going back into the treasury in taxation on the plant."
"Because we’re not asking for legalization; we’re asking for the legalization and regulation of the plant. This doesn’t come with a free-for-all. It is a free-for-all now — we’re trying to stop the free-for-all. It’s legalized regulation that we’re after.”
But Stobbs, who is 56, told VOA that he took a moment to pause and celebrate the court ruling.
“We had a pretty smoked-up weekend,” he said.