The campaign by pro-cannabis activists to legalize marijuana worldwide received a major boost in South Africa when a top court decriminalized its use in the country on Tuesday.

With the ruling, South Africa became the third country in Africa to take steps towards legalizing marijuana. Zimbabwe allows the use of medical marijuana, a ruling made last April. Lesotho, which is a high-altitude country encircled by South Africa, was the first African county to grant licenses to produce marijuana for medical and scientific use last year.

Marijuana, also called cannabis, bhang, weed, dagga, grass etc. is a mild euphoriant that is illegal in most parts of the world. In recent years the movement to decriminalize marijuana around the world has made significant progress, especially as more states in the U.S. legalize the drug.

South Africa Legalizes Marijuana

South Africa’s highest court on Tuesday decriminalized the private use of marijuana. Seen as a landmark judgment, the ruling was cheered and jeered in equal measure. Pro-cannabis activists across the world celebrated and vowed to continue pushing for worldwide legalization. But anti-cannabis activists are worried legalization will bring fresh problems of drug abuse, a rise in crime and health complications.

“The right to privacy is not confined to a home or private dwelling. It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption,” said Raymond Zondo, South Africa’s Deputy Chief Justice as he read the ruling.

The ruling comes after a provincial court in the province of Western Cape legalized the private use of marijuana last year. Western Cape is the where the country’s legislative capital, Cape Town, is located.

The binding ruling now allows you to grow your own marijuana and do with it whatever you please as long as you do not use it in public or sell it.

Though yet to see the implication of the ruling, anti-cannabis activists are worried legalization will lead to the rise of criminal gangs in South Africa. Pro-cannabis activists argue that marijuana should be legalized because of reasons such as:

  1. It has medicinal qualities and if brought out of the shadows, can be easily regulated and bring in new economic revenue streams.
  2. It is a safer alternative to alcohol or tobacco.
  3. Enforcement of marijuana laws discriminate against the poor and minorities and petty marijuana convictions can set someone down a more hardened criminal path.

Marijuana Industry Grows, But What to Do With Past Convictions?

It is also unknown what will happen to the thousands of people currently locked up in prison in South Africa for possession of marijuana.

As marijuana decriminalizes, there is still no consensus on how to handle past marijuana convictions. In the U.S., New York just recently announced a plan to invite people to request to have their marijuana convictions reviewed and possibly overturned.

In total, nine states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational consumption of weed making it legal for about a fifth of the U.S. population. In October, Canada will officially legalize marijuana nationally creating way for a multi-billion investment in the sector.

Reports show there are more than 200,000 workers in the legal cannabis industry in the U.S. In 2018, the government took in $11 billion worth of revenue from the industry, a figure that could rise up to $75 billion in 2030.

What do you think of the campaign to legalize marijuana?

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