Parliament has published the latest version of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill which continues to criminalize cannabis transgressions, but seeks to remove cannabis entirely from “the purview or scope of the Drugs Act”.
Cannabis stakeholders reacted with dismay when the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act of 2022 was gazetted in December 2022 as cannabis remained scheduled as "an undesirable, dependence producing substance". However, just three months later, state legislators have done a U-turn and removed cannabis entirely from the Drugs Act.
In the latest version of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, which is out for public comment until 28 April 2023, the Memorandum on the Objectives of the Bill states:
2.10 Clause 10 and Schedule 5 to the Bill provide for the repeal or amendment of certain provisions of the laws discussed in paragraphs 2.10.1 to 2.10.3, below.
2.10.1 Drugs Act
(a) Part II of Schedule 2 to the Drugs Act, is amended by the deletion of the item: ‘‘Dronabinol [(-)-transdelta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol].’’.
(b) Part III of Schedule 2 to the Drugs Act, is amended by the deletion of the words:
(i) ‘‘Cannabis (dagga), the whole plant or any portion or product thereof, except dronabinol [(-)-transdelta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol]’’; and
(c) The Bill therefore removes the entire issue of cannabis from the purview or scope of the Drugs Act, making way for cannabis to be regulated under its own separate legislation, as the Bill does.
The inclusion of cannabis as a scheduled substance in the Drugs Act has been seen as the biggest single stumbling block to creating an inclusive, job-creating cannabis and hemp economy. Its removal from the Act is a major step towards the establishment of a single over-arching cannabis law.
However, dealing in cannabis remains prohibited under the CPPB, which depending on the quantity could lead to 15 years in jail. The Bill defines “to deal” as “broadly defined as to provide for consideration, receive for consideration, sell, buy, offer for sale, offer to purchase, import, advertise for sale, export and any other conduct to facilitate selling”.
State legislators have argued that the motivation behind the Bill is to regulate the use of cannabis in terms of the 2018 ConCourt ruling, not to decriminalize it. The Bill makes provision for consenting adults to consume cannabis in private but continues to criminalize any commercial transactions unless under license.