Imagine that in the United States, we had the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and the Cannabis Party. Sounds crazy, right? Believe it or not, that’s essentially the case in South Africa. Iqela Lentsango: The Dagga Party of South Africa was founded in 2009 in an effort to allow voters who support the legalization of marijuana to have representation in politics. Dagga is a South African colloquial term for cannabis, much like we in the U.S. would say weed or pot. Recently, their movement had reason to celebrate when the highest court in South Africa legalized the use of cannabis by adults in private places.

The South African Constitutional Court, which is comparable to the United States Supreme Court, declared that three sections of their Constitution – which prohibited cannabis consumption, possession, and cultivation – were unconstitutional. Citizens now have the right to use cannabis in their homes and to grow it at home for personal use. According to the ruling, Parliament should change the law within 24 months.

South Africa isn’t the first African nation to legalize cannabis. Last year, Lesotho – a small, mountainous country that is actually completely landlocked by South Africa –  was the first to offer licenses to grow marijuana. In April of 2018, Zimbabwe (bordered by South Africa to the south) legalized cultivation for medicinal and scientific purposes. According to the United Nations 2018 World Drug Report, one of the largest global growths in marijuana use was in Africa.

Last year, the Dagga party won a court case arguing that a law against smoking and growing marijuana in one’s home was unconstitutional, which paved the way for this Constitutional Court case. Jeremy Acton, the leader of the Dagga Party, said that the ruling still isn’t enough and should have included the right to use marijuana in public places. His belief is that marijuana users should have the same rights and protections as people who use tobacco and alcohol. The party plans to continue to lobby for legislation that includes the public use of cannabis.

SOUTH AFRICA LEGALIZES PRIVATE CANNABIS USE

Perhaps the largest effects that are going to come from the ruling are on South Africa’s justice system. Thousands of poor South Africans are locked up for using or dealing even very small amounts of cannabis. The sale and distribution of marijuana are still illegal, and police who argued against the ruling says that it’s only going to send the wrong signal to criminals. Government officials were also opposed to legalization on the grounds of marijuana’s harmful health effects. The ruling didn’t address many of these concerns, focusing mainly on people’s rights to privacy and to do what they want in their own homes.

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