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Cannabis Bill flawed by privacy and equality concerns

A Wits law student has studied the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, which aims to respect the right to privacy of an adult to cultivate a prescribed quantity of cannabis plants, to possess a prescribed quantity of cannabis, and to smoke and consume
cannabis; and provides for the expungement of criminal records of someone convicted of
possession or use of cannabis, while protecting adults and children from the harms connected with cannabis. She has found the Bill flawed with respect to privacy and equality.

Reprinted from Legal Brief – 2021-01-25

Despite being a step in the right direction, the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill ‘is not holistic in achieving the goal of public health and safety’. ‘If passed in its current format, it will have long-lasting effects on privacy and equality in SA. It will also negatively impact the opportunity to unlock increased social and economic stability,’ says Wits University BA (Law) student Mukundi Budeli. In her analysis on the City Press site, she says the Bill is intended for wealthy individuals who can grow it in their backyards. ‘Not all South Africans have access to land – 12.5m South Africans don’t own houses, never mind the privacy nor space to grow it. Cannabis is a crop and the expectation that people will have the time, the space or even access to others who will give them cannabis altruistically is unrealistic.’ Budeli points out that SA’s cannabis industry is expected to be worth nearly R26bn by 2023. ‘Dagga requires other departments such as agriculture to be involved to help regulate where people can farm. Being a drug, it is also a public health matter – yet there is no collaborative effort with the health sector to communicate and study cannabis.’ As SA is not the first country to legalise cannabis, there are two main models that can be used:

* The US model essentially commercialises cannabis as a product like alcohol and tobacco. Individuals are free to produce and sell it, but there are regulatory bodies that monitor strains, licensing and other food and safety regulations.

* The Uruguayan model increases state involvement. Cannabis is sold in pharmacies to limit how much an individual can buy. Only citizens and permanent residents can buy cannabis.

Budeli recommends the US model, as it can incorporate the cultural and socio-economic legacies of cannabis ‘while maintaining fairness and competition’. However, she sounds a warning concerning SA’s current Bill: ‘If passed in its current format, it will have long-lasting effects on privacy and equality in SA. It will also negatively impact the opportunity to unlock increased social and economic stability.’

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