Thousands of people took to the streets of Cape Town earlier this year to demand a relaxation of drugs laws to allow medicinal and recreational use of cannabis. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ANA

Johannesburg - The Constitutional Court on Tuesday gave Parliament 24 months to remedy defects in the law which criminalise the private cultivation and use of marijuana in South Africa. 

The country's highest court confirmed an order by the high court in Cape Town declaring sections of the Drugs Act and Medicines Act "inconsistent with right to privacy entrenched in section 14 of the Constitution and, therefore, invalid to the extent that they make the use or possession of cannabis in private by an adult person for his or her own consumption in private a criminal offence".

This means South Africans could from Tuesday grow marijuana - more commonly known as dagga locally - in their backyard and smoke it for personal use.

Buying dagga remains illegal however.

"A purchaser of cannabis would be purchasing it from a dealer in cannabis. Therefore, if this Court were to confirm the order declaring invalid provisions that prohibit the purchase of cannabis, it would, in effect, be sanctioning dealing in cannabis. This the Court cannot do," the judgment read.

"Dealing in cannabis is a serious problem in this country and the prohibition of dealing in cannabis is a justifiable limitation of the right to privacy. I will, therefore, not confirm that part of the order of the High Court because we have no intention of decriminalising dealing in cannabis," the judgement read.

While the Constitutional Court order has been suspended until Parliament corrects the defects in the laws, it said police officers may in the meantime not arrest people for the personal, private use and growing of cannabis.

Last year in March, Justice Dennis Davis handed down a judgment in the Western Cape High Court that declared sections of the  Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act invalid and unconstitutional after an application brought by Rastafarian lawyer Gareth Prince, an advocate for the decriminalisation of marijuana.

Prince argued that the criminalisation of dagga use and possession was a violation of the right to equality, dignity, and freedom of religion.

African News Agency (ANA)