Picture: 123RF/ ERIC LIMON
Picture: 123RF/ ERIC LIMON

MPs have questioned the allowable quantity of cannabis that individuals can legally possess in terms of proposed legislation.

According to the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, the maximum quantity allowed for possession for personal consumption will be 600g of dried cannabis or cannabis equivalent per adult, or 1,200g per dwelling occupied by two or more people. The maximum permissible quantity in a public place will be 100g.

In terms of cultivation no more than four cannabis plants can be grown per adult or not more than eight plants in a dwelling occupied by two or more people. Dealing will remain prohibited, as will smoking cannabis in public.

The possession and cultivation of cannabis for private purposes in a private place was legalised by the Constitutional Court in September 2018 on the grounds that its prohibition constituted an impermissible infringement of the right to privacy.

The ruling of invalidity was suspended for two years to give parliament time to pass a law giving effect to the judgment. The court granted interim relief to ensure that during the period of suspension of invalidity it would not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use, be in possession of or cultivate cannabis in private.

There is no time for parliament to pass a bill by the September 17 deadline, so the court judgment will operate in the interim until the law is promulgated.

A report released in 2019 by European-based market intelligence and strategic consultancy Prohibition Partners showed that Africa’s legal cannabis industry could generate more than $7.1bn (R123bn) a year by 2023 if more of the continent’s big markets open up and follow the trend of legalisation seen in the US, Canada and Europe.

The department of justice’s law adviser, Sarel Robbertse, briefed parliament’s justice committee on the bill on Friday.

Replying to a question by DA justice spokesperson Glynnis Breytenbach, who believed that the legally permissible amount was too small, Robbertse said it had been arrived at on the basis of legislation in other jurisdictions such as Argentina, Canada and various states in the US and after consultations with the National Prosecuting Authority and the police.

This is likely to be one of the controversial issues that will be raised during public hearings on the bill, which also provides for the expunging of all criminal records of those convicted in the past for using or being in possession of cannabis.

African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart said research had indicated that more than 300,000 individuals had been arrested for the possession of sometimes small quantities of cannabis.

Robbertse said the original draft of the bill included certain prohibited areas for possession of cannabis but this was removed after consultations with the state law adviser.

Another issue of concern to Swart was that much of the contents of the bill will be governed by regulations and thus be out of the hands of parliament. It would be preferable, he said, if the clauses consigned to regulation were incorporated into the bill.

Robbertse explained that the commercial cultivation and production of hemp — used in clothing among other things — would be prohibited by the bill except if it was authorised by other legislation. Another law would be required for this.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za

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