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Part 1: What happens if the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill becomes law?
05 October 2020 | Views: 558
 

The 2020 Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill has been tabled in Parliament. Because a Bill is a draft version of an Act in the process of becoming a law, it means that this proposed legislation is not currently in effect and is still in the process of being passed through the National Assembly (which is where we’re currently at). Then it has to be reviewed by the National Council of Provinces, and only once these bodies have given it the thumbs-up, is the Bill in line to receive the final stamp of approval in the form of the President’s signature for the Act to fully come into effect.

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill was tabled in the National Assembly in response to the judgement passed in 2018 by the Constitutional Court which declared certain sections of the Drugs & Drug Trafficking Act, as well as the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act, invalid and unconstitutional on the basis of our right to privacy. It’s therefore quite fitting and safe to say that the name, “fits the Bill”. 

A memorandum on the Bill’s objects states that its aim is to ensure that an adult’s right to privacy is respected when they are in possession of cannabis plant cultivation material, are cultivating cannabis plants, are in possession of cannabis and are smoking and consuming it. Of course, the Bill still aims to regulate these activities by prescribing permissible quantities and protecting adults as well as children against the ‘harms of cannabis’. 

Should the Bill as it stands, become law, here is what you can expect. I reckon the first question most readers and cannabis-users alike are interested in, is the issue of how much you are allowed to possess.  So, let’s dive into it!

How much cannabis can I have in my possession?

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill provides for lawful private possession of cannabis by adults in private places (meaning a place which the public does not access as of right), as well as public places.

The Bill also deals with other cannabis equivalents containing trans-delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, which is the main psychoactive compound that produces the sensation of being “high”) and the private possession of it.

Other than dried cannabis, cannabis equivalents for the purpose of this Bill are fresh cannabis, liquid cannabis concentrates and solid cannabis concentrates.

All these variants have different quantities pertaining to possession for private use which is determined based on the allowed quantities for dried cannabis. This might sound confusing, but it merely comes down to the weight of the dried cannabis being used:

  • 1g dried cannabis = 5g fresh cannabis
  • 1g dried cannabis = 0.25g liquid cannabis concentrate
  • 1g dried cannabis = 0.25g solid cannabis concentrate

With that in mind, the Bill allows for private possession of 100g dried cannabis in a public place by an adult.

In a private place, however, provision is made for 600g of dried cannabis per adult or 1200g of dried cannabis per dwelling occupied by two or more adults.

Clearly one needs to do the math, especially if you intend on possessing multiple of the cannabis equivalents. This will definitely be worth the effort considering the harsh consequences if you do not abide by the prescribed amounts in this regard.

Which brings me to my next very important point. 

What are the penalties for contravening these provisions? 

The severity of the penalties for certain offences as set out in the Bill, clearly points to an intention to promote the responsible use of cannabis within the provided legal system, and warning citizens of the consequences of contravening the provisions of this Bill.

Note that if we are talking about penalties, for you or any other accused person to be convicted by a competent court the State has to prove your guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Once found guilty, the penalty will then take effect in the sentence you receive.

The Bill penalises offences based on their “Class” ranging from “Class A” to “Class D” with “A” being the most severe, and “D” the least.

According to the Bill, a person who is convicted of -           

  • a Class A offence, is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 15 years or to both a fine and such imprisonment;           
  • a Class B offence, is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six years or to both a fine and such imprisonment;   
  • a Class C offence, is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding four years or to both a fine and such imprisonment; or
  • a Class D offence, is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or to both a fine and such imprisonment.

It then becomes important to look more closely at some of the most pertinent offences recognised in the Bill.  

Offences in terms of the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill

There is a wide variety of possible offences a person can commit in terms of this Bill, which all have different consequences that are linked to the categorisation of penalties, as I’ve set out above.

The Bill differentiates between a trafficable quantity and commercial quantity to categorise the offence and subsequently penalise it pending your conviction.

So, if you are in possession of dried cannabis or its equivalent in excess of the allowed amount but less than a trafficable amount, a “Class C” offence is applicable.

Should you possess a trafficable quantity but less than a commercial quantity, a “Class B” offence is applicable. Possession of a commercial quantity or a quantity exceeding that will constitute a “Class A” offence. Here is a helpful table that outlines the quantities for private and public possession:

 

  Allowed quantity  Trafficable quantity  Commercial quantity
Public possession
per adult
100g 200g 300g
Private possession
per adult
600g 800g 1 000g
Private possession
per dwelling
occupied by two or
more adults
1 200g 1 500g 2 000g

 

If you do not conceal the cannabis you possess in public (up to 100g), that constitutes a Class C offence.

While on the topic of offences, dealing in any form of cannabis is prohibited and also listed as a Class A offence.

Furthermore, you are not allowed in terms of this Bill to smoke or consume cannabis in a public place as this is a Class D offence. Also, smoking in the presence of a non-consenting adult (whether in public or private) is considered a Class D offence, whilst doing so in the presence of a child is a Class C offence.

Also note that if you smoke or consume cannabis in a vehicle on a public road you can be found guilty of a Class C offence with the possibility of a DUI (driving under the influence) charge against you as well.

In my next blog I deal with the do’s and don’ts of cultivating cannabis for private use, how the Bill deals with cannabis in relation to children - and the very real possibility that criminal records relating to cannabis may well be expunged, should the Bill become law. Click here to read more!