Dagga ruling - how it all started

Marijuana lobbyists celebrate, 18 September 2018, inside the Constitutional court in Johannesburg, after the court ruled that the personal use of marijuana is not a criminal offence.
Marijuana lobbyists celebrate, 18 September 2018, inside the Constitutional court in Johannesburg, after the court ruled that the personal use of marijuana is not a criminal offence.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

“Garreth Prince defeated Babylon‚” screamed a man repeatedly in the Constitutional Court after it ruled that the ban on private use and cultivation of dagga at home was unconstitutional.

The judgment agreed to by every judge of the court effectively decriminalises the personal use of dagga in a private space.

Justice Raymond Zondo was frequently interrupted when reading a summary of the judgment by cheers‚ screams and applause.

The case was brought by Rastafarian Garreth Prince and leader of the Dagga Party Jeremy Acton who argued that the ban on use of dagga at home violated several constitutional rights.

In April 2017‚ the Western Cape High Court found the ban on adult home use violated the constitutional right to privacy.

The Constitutional Court had to confirm the judgment‚ which it did on Tuesday.

Afterwards Rastafarians sang and cheered outside court and said they would make September 18 a national holiday for them to remember the victory.

They called Prince who brought the case “Ganga Prince”‚ referring to the slang name for marijuana.

“Ganga Prince. After 18 years we are free‚” shouted a man in the crowd.

His dreadlocked followers thanked him for spending 18 years allowing them to smoke dagga without fear of arrest and allowing them to practise the Rastafarian religion.

Prince first fought the ban on Rastafarians smoking dagga in 18 years ago

When he tried to be admitted as a lawyer‚ he could not be because he was arrested for possessing dagga in 1989 as a student.

He said police had targeted and searched him when he was a student because he was a Rastafarian.

He lost his case in the Constitutional Court asking for dagga to be permitted for religious use in 2002.

Today‚ he won the right in the same court to smoke dagga. He represented himself in court without a lawyer.

He said outside court “dagga must be used to liberate the country…the green economy must create jobs.

“We have defeated the police state.”

The ruling does not allow smoking in front of children‚ in public or in front of adults‚ who do not wish to be in the presence of dagga smokers.

Jeremy Acton‚ who also brought the case‚ was first arrested with dagga in 2011 on his farm 15 kilometres outside the small town of Montague for smoking at home.

He can now smoke in peace. “I have been getting stoned at home for years‚” he said. The court found that privacy was not just confined to the home. Acton said he interpreted this to mean that people could refuse to be searched for dagga saying their body or personal bags were private.

He was delighted at the ruling and said dagga smokers could no longer be harassed by police.

The jubilant mood on Tuesday was best summed up when a man left the Constitutional Court and screamed: “We are free. After thousands of years Rastafarians‚ we are free.”

The Constitutional Court has ruled in favour of the private use of dagga on September 18 2018.

X