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Everything to Know about Cannabis in South Africa

In 2018, South Africa decriminalized the use, possession, and growth of marijuana. This made it, at the time, one of the most lenient countries in the world when it comes to cannabis. The new laws didn’t go so far as to open South Africa to cannabis tourism like the legalization in Canada and select parts of the United States. It is, however, possible to enjoy cannabis while traveling through South Africa. But before trying South Africa’s top strains like Durban Poison or Swazi Gold, you need to brush up on local laws and customs.

Here’s everything you need to know about cannabis consumption in South Africa.

Is cannabis legal in South Africa?

The rules regarding cannabis (also known as dagga) in South Africa are slightly contradictory. First and foremost, smoking in public around non-consenting adults and minors is not allowed, and could result in a hefty fine or imprisonment. However, the personal use of marijuana in South Africa is legal. In September 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that it’s no longer a criminal offense for an adult to use, possess, or grow cannabis in private for personal consumption. The judge ruled that due to the Bill of Rights section 4, which dictates that South Africans are entitled to live a life that’s not interfered with by private or government institutions, the ban on personal use of cannabis was unconstitutional. South Africa joins its neighbors Lesotho and Zimbabwe as the third African country to legalize the personal use of marijuana.

What is the legal amount of weed you’re allowed to have in South Africa?

The Constitutional Court did not give a quantity of cannabis for personal use. However, in February 2020, South Africans got a look at the laws being considered in a preview of the Regulation of Cannabis Bill. The bill, which is the first since decriminalization in 2018, states that South Africans can possess up to 600 grams per person, with a maximum of 1,200 grams per household. Public possession is limited to a maximum of 60 grams, though it’s important to always remember that public consumption is illegal.

The bill is currently awaiting Cabinet approval before it goes to Parliament and is put out for public comment by September 2020. Until the provisions are law, South Africa’s law enforcement officials have the discretion to decide if the amount of cannabis in a person’s possession is above what is necessary for private use.

Can you fly with weed in South Africa?

Yes! According to a directive issued to police offers, it is no longer a criminal offense to travel with small amounts of cannabis or edibles on domestic flights, but there are restrictions. You need to make sure the amount is consistent with personal consumption, and that your dagga is well concealed — in other words, keep it to yourself, just like you would when traveling anywhere else in public in the country. Things change if the flight is international. If you fly with any amount of cannabis outside of South Africa’s borders or into the country, it falls under drug dealing and is a criminal offense.

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What you need to know about South Africa’s cannabis cafes

After the landmark ruling in 2018, cannabis cafes began springing up in Johannesburg and Cape Town. One establishment, Cannapax, started selling franchise opportunities using a loophole in South African law. Canapax founder Russell de Beer said he is legally allowed to sell dagga as medicine because he is a traditional healer, and it falls under the Traditional Health Practitioners Act.

Much like the cafes in Amsterdam, the Cannpax cafes let you choose from a variety of strains, edibles, and other cannabis-infused products and paraphernalia. While these cafes have existed for well over a year, there has been a recent crackdown from the South African Police Service. In December 2019, Cannapax was raided, and the founder arrested. At the time of his arrest, there were 70 of these dispensaries operating countrywide.

If you do come across a cannabis cafe in South Africa, it’s an unlawful establishment since buying and selling weed in South Africa is still illegal and owners can no longer use the traditional healer loophole. The only way to legally get your hands on cannabis in South Africa is to grow it yourself or find someone who will share with you.

What are the laws around CBD products in South Africa?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is legal in South Africa. The Department of Health announced in May 2019 that CBD products can be legally purchased as long as it doesn’t exceed the maximum daily dose of 20 milligrams and sellers don’t claim to treat or cure any specific condition. You can buy a range of CBD products from online dispensaries like Zootly and Good Leaf, as well as physical stores like Puff Puff Pass.

The road to full cannabis legalization in South Africa

While buying and selling cannabis is illegal, there is a possibility that full legalization is around the corner. South Africa’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni, regularly updates his 10,000 Twitter followers about his giant pot plant, and is a firm proponent of full legalization.

With South Africa entering its second recession in a decade, and Prohibition Partners valuing the country’s cannabis market at 27 billion South African rands ($1.6 billion) by 2023, the tax revenue the South African government can claim from the plant could fast track its full legalization.

While consuming cannabis in South Africa sounds risky, there’s nothing to worry about as long as you abide by the personal use laws and don’t buy or sell it.

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Get to know your CBD: 6 things to bear in mind to avoid buying a toxic or illegal product

Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from dagga, has taken off in South Africa since its legalisation in May this year with, among others, pharmaceutical stores Clicks and Dis-Chem rolling out the oil. (Prices start at R295, Business Insider reported last month.)

But for most people, the concept is still new, and what you don’t know can hurt you. When it comes to CBD oils, there are many to choose from, including low quality ones. And very importantly, you need to ascertain whether what you’re buying is legal.

Buying legal CBD

In a media statement by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and the South African Police Service (SAPS), the following warrants special attention:

12-month exclusion notice

According to the statement, products with low concentrations of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive substance that gives one a “high” – are legal, based on the 12-month exclusion notice published by the health minister in May this year.

This means that CBD-containing preparations for medicinal use are allowed to be sold when they contain a maximum daily dose of 20 mg of CBD with an accepted low-risk claim or health claims, and don’t refer to any specific disease.

The products cannot contain more than 0,1 % of THC when in a form that is not suitable for ingestion, smoking or inhaling purposes. CBD-containing processed products are legal when the naturally occurring quantities of CBD and THC contained in the product do not exceed 0,0075 % and 0,001 % of CBD and THC respectively.

Any CBD-containing products that are outside the parameters of the exclusion notice are subject to the provisions of the Schedules and registration as a medicine.

Marketing of illegal products

Although the sale of CBD oils has been legalised, there are hundreds of products being sold to the public, and SAPS warns that the establishment of illegal dispensaries/outlets, online sites and social media platforms which are marketing and selling cannabis and cannabis-related products to the public remain illegal, as these are in contravention of the act and the exclusion notice.

How does one identify legal CBD?

Momeena Omarjee from SAHPRA told VOC:

“In terms of the exclusion notice, the CBD-containing preparations, or medicines, are allowed a maximum daily dose of 20mg per day, and it can make a general health awareness claim.

“As soon as someone is making a medicinal or therapeutic claim to treat or cure a specific disease or symptoms, those need to be registered with SAHPRA, so stay away from products making therapeutic claims that aren’t registered with SAHPRA.”

The statement also points out that SAPS is mandated to and will act, not only against businesses that sell cannabis illegally, but also against the customers who buy these products.

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When assessing the quality, or looking to buy the best quality CBD Hemp Oil, Dr Alison Richardson, neurologist and spokesperson for Oil Science – a company that specialises in the supply of premium CBD products – also cautions that knowing your source is key, and that you should remember the following:

There are different types of CBD out there

Since CBD was removed from South Africa’s list of highly-controlled drugs, there has been an influx of retailers stocking various CBD products. However, CBD oil comes in varying degrees of strength and quality.

Although you can find a lot of variations cheaply, they’ll be of lower quality and won’t really offer therapeutic benefits, which is essentially what you’re looking for. Ensure that the product you’re buying is cultivated naturally, contains no THC and is 100% organic and certified.

There are also two types of CBD oil that vary in colour:

Raw: the oil is black or dark green in appearance since it has been extracted from raw hemp material, with no further purification process implemented. This type will contain plant matter, and varying amounts of THC and chlorophyll.

Filtered: the oil is a light golden or amber colour because it has undergone decarboxylation and a filtering process where parts of the plant that were left over from the initial extraction process are removed.

Know your hemp from marijuana

Since hemp and cannabis come from the same plant, many people still confuse hemp with its narcotic cousin. But hemp contains higher levels of CBD and lower levels of the psychoactive element THC (that makes you “high”) than marijuana.

Check the label

Consumers need to look out for certified products and companies that are transparent about what goes into their products. Reputable CBD retailers use and publish Certificates of Analysis (COA) that will tell you the quality of the CBD source and list important information such as its potency and solvent levels.

The certification ensures that, through analysis, the natural integrity of the products is maintained. Check the labels and read the instructions carefully, as the dosages can have different strengths.

If the product doesn’t contain a COA, give them a miss, as you could end up buying a product that’s fraudulent or even toxic.

If you’ve noticed unregistered CBD items, SAHPRA and SAPS urge the public to make them aware of the products that contravene the act (and are illegal).

You can download the MySAPS App on any iPhone or android to have easy access to the police. You can also provide any information relating to the sale of cannabis to the SAPS through the SAPS Crime Stop number 086 00 10111. Callers may remain anonymous and all information will be treated in the strictest confidence.