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Top State Lawyer Rejects Private Cannabis Club Model: Concept Has Merit But is Too Much of a Hassle to Regulate!

‘Unpractical to have cannabis clubs in SA’

Senior State Law Advisor Sarel Robbertze sees no place for private cannabis clubs in the amended Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill. He told Parliament’s Justice and Correctional Services Portfolio Committee on 23 November 2021, that he had considered incorporating the model into the Bill but decided against it – because it would be too burdensome on the state to police?

“We acknowledge that in certain jurisdictions private cannabis clubs are allowed in respect of the private use of cannabis. We did consider that but it would require substantial regulatory oversight, inspection of facilities and compliance over strains. It is our submission that it is unpractical in the South African situation to provide for cannabis clubs.”

He said the same would apply to community grow-ops. These would be too complicated to police and could be subject to multiple offences and duplicate reporting. “It therefore cannot be accommodated” and were not considered options. 

“What if you have one man with four kilograms who says he’s growing on behalf of three others? This will create problems for law enforcement.

He acknowledged that the Bill discriminated against “large families” as there was a cap of 10 plants per household, while “small families” could grow four plants per adult individual.


Main focus of Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill is “to limit dealing’

Robbertze made it clear that the main purpose of the Bill was to limit cannabis dealing, and that was why it was focusing only on “personal consumption in a private space”. For this reason, the Department of Justice felt strongly about maintaining strict limits on the number of plants a person could grow and how much cannabis they could possess. He said Clause 1.2 of the Bill would not prevent other cannabis laws from being passed, for instance to legalize adult-use consumption.

“Criminalization is necessary to ensure compliance. These measures are to make sure there is no large-scale dealing and to protect children”.  He did not envisage the expungement of the criminal records of cannabis dealers, but only those who’d been found guilty of possessing small amounts. 


Expanded definitions of ‘private space’

Robbertze said the definition of a private space included a “building, house, room, shed, hut, tent, mobile homes, caravan, boat or land or any part thereof to which the public does not have access”.

He said “if a hotel designates a specific place for smoking cannabis and is restricted to that space and concealed from others, and does not affect other guests, then it may be regarded as a private place.”

He rejected the notion that there was a shortage of private places in informal settlements: A private place is your friend’s room, or out in the field, etc” he said. He acknowledged the claims by Rastas and traditional leaders that they should be exempt from the limitations on cultivation and possession, and said these would be factored into the review process and that spiritual or cultural sites may be included in the definition of private space..

“But, I warn you, there will be limitations even for them” he said, pointing out that their religious and customary rights were protected under other legislation.


Cannabis driving restrictions on the way

Robbertze said limitations could be increased for people growing and possessing cannabis for medicinal use and the definition of smoking would be amended to include vaping.

He said the Bill envisaged the introduction of THC limits for driving and that the National Road Traffic Act was likely to be amended. He said limits for THC and methods of testing were still being discussed, but that the standard in Canada and the United States was 5 nanograms of THC per millilitre and that these would probably be adopted here”.

He said hemp would be exempt from the provisions of the Bill which allowed for cannabis with a THC percentage of less than 0,2 to be classified as hemp.

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