Liberate vs Incarcerate: South Africa’s Cannabis Conundrum

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill could be a signifier for greater liberty in South Africa, giving people more personal agency and opening up economic opportunities.

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill is being debated in Parliament. It aims to decriminalise the use of cannabis and expunge the criminal records of people who have been arrested for possessing it. This Bill needs support from liberals in preventing the punishment of people using the drag for private recreational purposes, as it affirms their individual autonomy.

Lawmakers’ insistence on criminalising cannabis has seen many people serving prison sentences in overcrowded facilities. From 1991 to 2005, 33 184 people were arrested for possessing cannabis, while 59 539 were arrested for trading it with others. This victimless “crime” has seen thousands of lives affected by jail sentences and disruption they cause.

If this Bill becomes law, adult South Africans will no longer be subjected to punishment and possibly the destruction of their lives for indulging in a (sometimes controversial) personal habit. Although the law has been reformed to permit the smoking of cannabis, it is worth noting that there will still be regulations controlling its use and distribution. One aspect of the regulations,  which is rational, makes it illegal to provide children with cannabis. Furthermore, the Bill places limitations on how much cannabis one may possess and use. While the advisability and efficacy of such regulation may be up for debate, the move towards decriminalisation should be welcomed, as it means that legislation around cannabis is beginning to move towards personal liberty as opposed to control by the government.

There are other potential benefits to this. Since 2009, South Africa’s economy has not achieved significant growth, keeping millions of people in poverty. One of the causes of these problems are policies and regulations that deter investment, entrepreneurship and innovation. Following the Constitutional Court’s ruling that cannabis use should be decriminalised, the cannabis industry has experienced significant growth. Had the policy been reformed earlier, the South African cannabis industry could have expanded sooner and contributed to economic growth. 

The cannabis market has unlimited potential to grow, and this could benefit consumers by providing them with cannabis-infused products and — most importantly — jobs. The South African market is projected to grow by 33% between 2019 to 2023 and the drivers of this trend are alcohol, pet, skincare and health products infused with cannabis. Over the next few years, the successes that followed from decriminalising cannabis could strengthen the argument that fewer regulations on businesses and industries help to promote economic growth.

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill stands for freedom. Far fewer people would be incarcerated and while strong arguments have been made for much less regulation in the economy, the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill will make for an even stronger case.



Cover image source available here