Legislative Aspects of Cannabis and Psychedelics in South Africa


South Africa’s legislative landscape regarding cannabis and psychedelics has seen significant evolution, mirroring global trends towards more liberalized policies. Recent legislative actions, including a new law signed by the President this week, signal a transformative approach to these substances. This guide explores the historical context, current legal framework, and future directions for cannabis and psychedelics regulation in South Africa.

Cannabis Legislation

  1. Historical Context
  • Cannabis, known locally as “dagga,” has a deep-rooted history in South African culture, used both recreationally and medicinally. The substance was criminalized under the 1992 Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act, which imposed stringent penalties for its use, possession, and distribution.
  1. Legal Milestones
  • 2017 High Court Ruling: In March 2017, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the criminalization of cannabis for private use was unconstitutional, citing the right to privacy.
  • 2018 Constitutional Court Ruling: In a landmark decision in September 2018, the Constitutional Court upheld the ruling, decriminalizing the private use and cultivation of cannabis for adults. However, the ruling did not legalize the commercial sale or distribution of cannabis.
  1. New Law Signed by the President
  • Cannabis for Private Purposes Act (2024): Signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa in June 2024, this Act provides a comprehensive legal framework for the private use, cultivation, and possession of cannabis. The key provisions include:
    • Personal Use and Possession: Adults may possess up to 600 grams of dried cannabis in their private residences and up to 100 grams in public. Each household can cultivate up to four flowering plants.
    • Public Consumption: The law strictly prohibits the consumption of cannabis in public spaces and imposes fines for violations.
    • Regulated Clubs: The Act introduces cannabis clubs where members can collectively grow and share cannabis, offering a regulated environment for community-based cultivation.
  1. Commercial and Medical Cannabis
  • Medical Cannabis: The 2017 amendment to the Medicines and Related Substances Act permits the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Patients can obtain medical cannabis through a doctor’s prescription, and licensed producers can manufacture cannabis-based medicines.
  • Commercial Activities: While the new Act focuses on private use, it opens the door for future regulations regarding the commercial production and sale of cannabis. Ongoing discussions aim to establish a regulated market that includes small-scale farmers and traditional healers.
  1. Regulatory Bodies
  • South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA): Oversees the medical use of cannabis, ensuring product safety, efficacy, and quality.
  • Department of Justice and Constitutional Development: Responsible for enforcing the new Cannabis for Private Purposes Act and developing related regulations.

Psychedelics Legislation

  1. Current Legal Status
  • Psychedelics, such as psilocybin (found in magic mushrooms), LSD, and MDMA, remain classified as Schedule 7 substances under the Medicines and Related Substances Act. Their use, possession, and distribution are prohibited, except for controlled medical and scientific research.
  1. Research and Medical Use
  • Permits for Research: Researchers must obtain special permits from SAHPRA to study psychedelics. This regulation ensures rigorous oversight to maintain ethical and safety standards.
  • Therapeutic Potential: Emerging research globally indicates significant therapeutic benefits of psychedelics in treating mental health conditions like depression, PTSD, and anxiety. South African researchers are increasingly advocating for reclassification to facilitate clinical studies.
  1. Traditional Use and Cultural Considerations
  • Indigenous practices involving psychedelic plants, such as iboga in West African spiritual traditions, exist in South Africa. These practices often fall into legal grey areas, with traditional healers using psychedelics in ceremonial contexts.

Key Legal Developments and Future Directions

  1. Cannabis for Private Purposes Act
  • The newly signed Cannabis for Private Purposes Act aims to provide clarity and structure following the Constitutional Court’s ruling. By setting possession limits and legalizing cannabis clubs, the Act seeks to balance personal freedom with public health considerations.
  • Implementation Challenges: Effective implementation requires public education campaigns, law enforcement training, and the development of ancillary regulations to address gray areas, such as workplace policies and driving under the influence.
  1. Expanding Medical Cannabis Access
  • Efforts to streamline the licensing process for medical cannabis producers and enhance patient access are ongoing. These initiatives aim to make cannabis-based treatments more accessible and affordable.
  • SAHPRA Guidelines: SAHPRA continues to update guidelines to ensure medical cannabis products meet high standards for safety and efficacy.
  1. Potential Psychedelics Reforms
  • Global trends and accumulating research may drive future legislative reforms in South Africa. Advocacy for the therapeutic use of psychedelics is growing, with potential reclassification to lower schedules to facilitate research and medical application.
  • Ethical and Safety Considerations: Any move towards legalizing psychedelics for therapeutic use will need to prioritize ethical guidelines, informed consent, and culturally sensitive practices.

Challenges and Considerations

  1. Public Health and Safety
  • Ensuring public health and safety is paramount. Clear guidelines and robust enforcement are needed to prevent misuse and address potential health risks associated with cannabis and psychedelics.
  • Education and Prevention: Public education initiatives are crucial to inform citizens about responsible use and the potential risks of these substances.
  1. Social and Economic Equity
  • The historical criminalization of cannabis has disproportionately affected marginalized communities. Legal reforms must address these past injustices by providing economic opportunities in the legal cannabis market.
  • Inclusivity: Supporting small-scale farmers and traditional healers in integrating into the regulated market is essential for promoting inclusivity and equitable growth.
  1. Ethical Research Practices
  • Ethical considerations are vital in psychedelic research, particularly around informed consent and respecting traditional uses. Collaborative efforts between researchers, regulators, and traditional practitioners can ensure that research honors cultural heritage and advances scientific understanding.


South Africa is at a transformative juncture regarding the regulation of cannabis and psychedelics. The recent Cannabis for Private Purposes Act represents a significant step towards more liberal and structured policies for cannabis use. As global recognition of the therapeutic potential of psychedelics grows, South Africa may consider future reforms to facilitate research and medical use. Ensuring public health, social equity, and ethical research practices will be crucial in shaping a progressive and inclusive legislative framework for these substances.