SANCA (South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) stated that it is a sad day for South Africa due to the legalisation of dagga!

The Constitutional Court has ruled today that the personal use of dagga is not a criminal offence and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said on Tuesday, 18th of September 2018 that  “The right to privacy is not confined to a home or private dwelling. It will not be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private space…”

Our country is already crippled with the highest percentages of addiction in the world (WHO report 2017) and the resources to address the needs are few and far between and not adequate.  This ruling has raised many concerns for SANCA working in the prevention and treatment of substance use and addiction for over 60 years.

Firstly, the implications of smoking and using cannabis in one’s personal space could violate the rights of children (implications for the Children’s Act) and others. The stricter tobacco rules being proposed in the Tobacco Draft Bill further contradicts this ruling as it seems that parents could be charged if smoking cigarettes in the motor vehicle with a under 18 year old in the car or that there is a ban on smoking in any enclosed common areas of a multi-unit residence. This should be applied to cannabis smoking as well. Another concern is not only the fact that adults using cannabis at home and could expose their children to secondary smoke (health concerns as  cannabis is even more damaging due to higher tar levels than tobacco), but that it could create an acceptable drug culture which can be misunderstood by children and youth and could lead to the experimentation with other substances. Now children that would have experimented at a later stage in their lives might be tempted to start sooner. Research supports the fact that the onset age is very important to determine later stage addiction.

Secondly, SANCA holds that it is of the utmost importance to take into consideration the fact that cannabis is not harmless and could cause health consequences. The fact that one third of all patients treated by SANCA nationally used cannabis alone or in combination with other substances testifies to this. International studies strongly support evidence that cannabis is the “gateway drug” to other substance use and abuse. The use of any substance has health and other risks associated with it and any psycho-active substance such as cannabis can lead to a percentage of users becoming addicted. An internal study at SANCA confirmed that nearly 60% of clients started with cannabis and then moved to other substances.

No legal or illegal substances are 100% safe to use and the risks factors need to be communicated to users. One of the main risks for youth using cannabis is the negative effects on the developing brain as supported by research. The brain only matures at age 26 to 27 and cannabis targets the areas of the brain responsible for memory and healthy decision making. The younger a person start using dagga the higher the possibility of developing other psychiatric conditions. 

Not all the dagga you buy are clean dagga but often laced with various other drugs that cause the acceleration of the addiction process such as seen with nyaope (mainly a mixture of dagga and heroin).  The more the dealers sell the more money they make.  The treatment of cannabis sativa has become more challenging because it is frequently used in combination with other licit and illicit substances. This has resulted in the development of more stringent and intensive detoxification protocols. In addition to this, the patient profile has changed in terms of an increase in the presentation of dual diagnosis, co-morbidity and serious physically deterioration.

Thirdly, road safety is a serious concern and when looking at the prosecution rates, it is very low for other substances such as the dagga. The negative effects on reaction times of drivers under the influence of cannabis could lead to higher number of road accidents.

Fourthly, the impact on South African workplaces could see an increase in workplace accidents and loss of productivity due to more employees smoking cannabis. The occupational Health and Safety Act is very clear that workplaces must ensure a safe working environment for all employees and this might difficult to achieve. The drug screening of cannabis is more complex than any other substance as it is detected in the body for long periods of time, making it difficult to determine when the employee has used last.  

Fifthly, touching on the monitoring of “private use” makes you wonder who is going to do it.  Our crime statistics has just been released on the 14th of September 2018 and shows a 10,5% in drug-related crimes and 14,8% increase in driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs for the period not to mention that 57 people are killed daily in South Africa ( How; where and who is going to monitor that youth 18 years and older are the only ones using? We do not have the manpower to control and monitor yet another substance such as cannabis.

At the bottom of the legalisation lies someone making more money. It is indeed a very sad day because a high percentage of out youth are going to bear the consequences of this ruling.

One wonders if with the legalisation of cannabis, whether the possible impact of such a step has been considered on the economics, health and the other aspects of the country as a whole as well as the impact on the well-being of its citizens, in addition to the effect this may have on regional and international relationships. This decision was taken in isolation, as it may not be supported by the public in general. Although there is increasing support for the legalisation of cannabis, it may well be that only be a small minority is in favour of such a step, while the silent majority may not necessarily be in support of such action.

Society has the right to decide what is acceptable and what not. Any change in legislation that may have an impact on all the citizens of a country necessitates that the widest possible consultation takes place. The impact of any change in legislation needs to consider the impact this will have on crime, health and welfare, and education. Research in this regard is needed and must be supported.

Treatment is available at all our SANCA centres and clients are encouraged to contact us on 011 892-3829 or WhatsApp us on 0765351701. Visit our website on