Legal professionals said their understanding of Judge Dennis Davis’s ruling was that the use of cannabis remained illegal. Picture: Neo Ntsoma/Independent Media
Durban - The Western Cape High Court has ruled the prohibition of cannabis unconstitutional but smoking dagga can still land you in jail - for now, at least.

The Mercury on Sunday spoke to a number of legal professionals who said their understanding of Judge Dennis Davis’s Friday ruling was that the use of cannabis remained illegal and you could still be arrested if you were found in possession of it or using it.

In addition:

* The judgment still had to be confirmed by the Constitutional Court and then referred to Parliament.

* Parliament still had up to two years to change the relevant laws before the possession and/or use of cannabis was officially decriminalised.

* The ruling pertained only to having or using cannabis at home and had no effect on laws governing the use and possession of cannabis in public and distribution of the substance in public.

In his ruling, Judge Davis, with two judges concurring, found that laws prohibiting the use of cannabis and the possession, purchase and/or cultivation of it - in private homes and for personal consumption - were inconsistent with the Constitution and declared them invalid.

He said Parliament should have 24 months to make the relevant changes to legislation but in the interim, he said, prosecutions relating to these laws should be stayed.

He also ordered that until the relevant legislative changes had been made - or until the 24 months were up - that “it will be deemed to be a defence that the use, possession, purchase or cultivation of cannabis in a private dwelling is for the personal consumption of the adult accused”.

The judgment came after the head of the Dagga Party of South Africa, Jeremy Acton, along with Rastafarian lawyer Gareth Prince and 18 others, approached the court in December in a bid to have cannabis decriminalised.

Myrtle Clarke, who with her partner Julian Stobbs, are known as Pretoria’s “dagga couple”, welcomed the ruling but also cautioned that until the law changes it was still illegal for people to smoke dagga in their homes.

The couple are fighting for the legalisation of dagga in a case before the Pretoria High Court which Clarke said was much broader than the Western Cape case and would include evidence by experts related to the benefits of cultivating and using dagga for certain conditions.

One of the issues revolves around the trading in dagga as, Clarke said, to have dagga one must buy it if you don't grow it yourself.

The Mercury