The media has been awash with reports (sometimes conflicting, often vague) of what the recent Constitutional Court ruling actually means in practice.
Whether you agree with the ruling or not, and whether or not you personally have ever had (or intend to have) anything to do with cannabis/marijuana/weed/dagga, we all need to be aware of the implications. Here’s some food for thought –
- Err on the side of caution: Parliament has two years to change the relevant Acts to cure their constitutional defects. Until it does so, there will be many grey areas and your best course of action is always going to be to err on the side of caution. You really don’t want to be funding a test case in court, particularly if your job or your clean criminal record is at stake.
- The limits of the ruling: The Court’s decision has not comprehensively “legalised dagga”. What it has done is to provide that, until the Acts are amended, it could not be a criminal offence for an adult person –
- To use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption in private; and
- To cultivate cannabis in a private place for his or her personal consumption in private.
Any form of supply or purchase, even in private, and any possession or use by a minor (under 18), anywhere, would still put you at risk of a criminal record and heavy penalties.
- The danger of arrest: As the Court put it, if a police officer finds a person in possession of cannabis and thinks it is not for personal consumption, then “He or she will ask the person such questions as may be necessary to satisfy himself or herself whether the cannabis he or she is in possession of is for personal consumption. If, having heard what the person has to say, the police officer thinks that the explanation is not satisfactory, he or she may arrest the person. Ultimately, it will be the court that will decide whether the person possessed the cannabis for personal consumption.” Similar considerations will, said the Court, apply to questions around cultivation.
There is also no clarity on what will be considered to be a “private place” other than the Court’s comment that there are places other than “a person’s home or a private dwelling” where the right to privacy would apply.
The bottom line – you still risk arrest on suspicion of having or growing more dagga than a police officer considers reasonable for your personal consumption, or in a place that you consider “private” but that a police officer doesn’t.
- Driving under the influence: Our law provides that: “No person shall on a public road … drive a vehicle or occupy the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle of which the engine is running … while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having narcotic effect” (our underlining). Effective testing by police if you are pulled over is another matter entirely, but does anyone really want to risk a stay in a police cell while a test is arranged?
- In the workplace: Since the court’s ruling applies only to “private places” it seems unlikely that employees could ever get away with use or possession in a standard office situation. But what about an employee pitching for work whilst still under the influence? Practical issues of proof aside, it is probably an extremely bad idea. Employees have a general duty to perform their functions properly and doing anything to compromise that probably puts you at risk of at the very least a disciplinary warning. Of course anyone in a job where 100% sobriety is a non-negotiable necessity (think heavy machinery operators, surgeons, pilots and the like) risks a lot more than just a warning.
Employers: a final note
Having a properly-drawn “sobriety policy” in place will reduce the risk of confusion and dispute in the workplace. If you have a policy in place already, ask your lawyer to check that it adequately covers you in light of these new developments.