Weed in South Africa: Cannabis Legal Status Guide

Author Aleph One
11 April 2024
Learn to what extent weed is legalized in South Africa and if there’s a legal way to obtain the plant or its products.
11 April 2024
30 min read
Weed in South Africa: Cannabis Legal Status Guide

Read more
  • 1. Private adult use, possession, and cultivation legalized
  • 2. A short history of prohibition
  • 3. Medical cannabis
  • 3. a. Is cbd legal in south africa?
  • 4. Cannabis cultivation
  • 4. a. Are cannabis seeds legal in south africa?
  • 5. What’s next for cannabis policy in south africa?
  • 6. In conclusion

South Africa boasts centuries-long traditions of weed cultivation and use, is home to such famous cannabis strains as Durban Poison, and was estimated to be the 4th largest producer of the substance in the world in 2003. Does all this mean that the plant is legal here? Not quite. Read on to unravel the complicated web of cannabis laws and regulations in South Africa in our comprehensive guide.

Private Adult Use, Possession, and Cultivation Legalized

In 2017, Western Cape High Court passed a ruling that called the prosecution of adults for private personal use, possession, and cultivation of cannabis unconstitutional. Since the state disagreed with the decision, it was up to the country’s Constitutional Court to either upheld or reject it.

In 2018, a panel of judges of the Constitutional Court passed a unanimous decision protecting the right of adults to grow, possess, and use cannabis without the fear of prosecution if everything was confined to the person’s own private home.

The ruling didn’t specifically define any legal limits as to how many plants one could grow on their private property or how much cannabis to possess. The parliament was supposed to pass a bill to formalize the new regulations, and in 2020, such a bill was drafted. Called the 2020 Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill, it also allows adults to share cannabis seeds, plants, and products with each other if it happens in private and without remuneration. At the time of writing, the bill has successfully moved through the legislature but not signed into law yet.


Year Event/Legislation Key Points
Early Evidence Introduction of Cannabis Believed to be introduced by Arab or Indian traders. Archaeological evidence dates back to 1320.
1680 First Prohibition Dutch East India Company prohibited cultivation by settlers.
1870 Unique Provincial Laws Provincial laws set against dagga to varying extents. Natal banned Indian migrant workers from possessing, smoking, using, bartering or gifting the plant.
1922 Modern Prohibition Regulation 14 of the Customs and Excises Duty Act criminalized the cultivation, possession, use and sale of dagga.
2000 Marijuana Advocacy Rise in advocacy for dagga legalization. Annual "Cannabis Walk" in Cape Town.
2017 Medical Cannabis Given Green Light Legalization of medical marijuana and implementation of a licensing framework for its cultivation.
2018 Recreational Decriminalization Constitutional Court ruled that the personal and private use of cannabis, by adults, would be decriminalized.
2020 Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill Proposed limits on personal and private adult use, possession, and cultivation as well as sharing of marijuana without remuneration.
2024 Deliberations Continue Bill is awaiting presidential signature.

Timeline of key events and legislation in the history of cannabis laws in South Africa.


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A Short History of Prohibition

Known in South Africa as ‘dagga’, weed was widespread here even in pre-colonial times. Natives were using cannabis in teas and food, but it was only when European settlers brought workers from India when the smoking of cannabis flowers and hashish became common.

The authorities quickly learned to perceive this habit as a threat, and in the 19th century, many of the settlements passed some form of anti-cannabis law or other. Some of them had clearly racial undertones – one common fear was that different races bonded over shared ‘dagga’ use.

In the 20th century, South Africa followed in the footsteps of other nations, criminalizing the cultivation and consumption of cannabis. The laws were toughening throughout most of the century, culminating in the 1992 act that found anyone in possession of more than 115 grams of cannabis guilty of dealing. This act was soon repealed as unconstitutional.

This anti-cannabis policy was even less effective at curbing illegal production and use than in most other countries of the world since ‘dagga’ was an important cash-crop for many local farmers. Without it, all that was left for them was a subsistence economy.

Medical Cannabis

The rules regulating patients’ access to medical cannabis are quite lax in South Africa. There are no restrictions as to what conditions can be treated with cannabis as long as your physician thinks it can help you. So, the standard pathway for the patient is to consult a doctor licensed by a special regulatory body called SAHPRA. The doctor will then apply on the patient’s behalf online to SAHPRA, and once the approval is granted, the patient can get their medicine at a pharmacy.

One of the cannabis-based FDA-approved medicines that was also approved for use in South Africa as far back as 1996 was Dronabinol, which is a synthetic alternative to THC. There’s conflicting information as to whether patients can actually access Dronabinol or any other medical marijuana products the way the regulations describe. What is clear is that these pharmaceuticals are very expensive, and the patients must pay for them out of their own pocket.


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Is CBD Legal in South Africa?

CBD in South Africa is classified as a Schedule 4 substance, which means that it’s legal with a prescription. Basically, the same rules apply to CBD pharmaceuticals as medical marijuana in general but with one exception: CBD products can also be sold over the counter if they contain no more than 20mg of the active ingredient.

Also, any cannabis products are legal if the levels of THC and CBD in them do not exceed the legal limits of:

  • 0,001% for THC,
  • 0,0075% for CBD.


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Cannabis Cultivation

As we’ve mentioned earlier, private personal weed cultivation in South Africa was legalized by the same court ruling as possession and use. The limits are 4 plants per person but no more than 8 plants per household. One is also allowed to give one flowering plant to someone else but not in public. As for seedlings, defined as young plants no more than 15 cm in height or width, a grower can have as many of them as they like, but they can only give out no more than 30 of them and not for remuneration.

There’s also a bustling illegal cannabis-cultivation industry in the country that produces the substance for sale, with many farmers depending on this crop for survival, especially in the so-called ‘dagga belt’, where climate conditions are especially conducive to weed growing.

Most of the commercially grown cannabis is consumed domestically, but a portion of the crop finds its way to the European black market. The Constitutional Court ruling of 2018 created an opportunity to get a license for the legal production of medical marijuana and industrial hemp, but the licensing fees are prohibitively high and the regulations difficult to navigate.

Are Cannabis Seeds Legal in South Africa?

Currently, the sale and possession of cannabis seeds isn’t really regulated. Since the cultivation itself is legal, you can safely order and possess cannabis seeds and even plant them – if it’s for your personal use and done on your property, no one will bother you. You can also give out seeds, but not for profit – this remains a criminal offense.

More questions arise with commercial quantities. The eventual aim of authorities is to make use of the country’s climate and experienced workforce to establish a robust legal industry with a potential to export medical and recreational cannabis to other countries that have legalized the substance. One of the conditions for the success of this venture is obtaining high-quality seeds.

There is a Cannabis Master Plan that envisions, among other things, the creation of a seed supply system, where the quality of the genetic material is tested and certified.


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What’s Next for Cannabis Policy in South Africa?

Right now, the situation with cannabis in South Africa is in transition. The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill clearly sets the trends and gives SA consumers and growers the foretaste of what to expect, but it has yet to come into force. It’s unclear whether police already treat cannabis enthusiasts as if the bill were signed by the President or if they follow the current norms and guidelines.

When the bill does come into effect, it will make South Africa one of the most progressive jurisdictions in terms of cannabis legalization. However, the only way to put a stop to illegal trade is to create a framework for legal sales, and that’s beyond the scope of the Bill. Likewise, there’s a lot to be done in the domain of medical marijuana before SA has a chance to create a strong and internationally competitive industry that its rich cannabis history and its perfect climate deserve.

The same can be said of the situation with patients’ access to cannabis. Right now, the situation is hardly more than a declaration of good intentions, but the system seems dysfunctional. The issue isn’t really pressing considering the wide availability of cannabis on black market and the right of patients to grow their own medicine. However, there’s nothing yet available for those patients who value safety of using standardized and approved pharmaceuticals.

In Conclusion

Compared to many other nations, South Africa is almost a safe haven for cannabis enthusiasts and an attractive option for travelers who value this plant and its products. One can still get in trouble with the law, but unless you do it in the most provocative manner, it isn’t likely, and the country promises to become even more progressive going forward.