Cannabis in South Africa

Garden escape seedling, Somerset West, South Africa

Cannabis in South Africa is illegal for recreational or medical use. Some advocates have pressured the government to modify its laws, which first restricted cannabis in 1922, to allow exemptions for medical use, religious practices, and other purposes. The regional term dagga is commonly used for cannabis in the nation.


Cannabis was already in popular use in South Africa, by the Khoikhoi, San, and Bantu populations, by the time Europeans began to settle the Cape in 1652. The drug was associated with traditional African populations and a lower economic status.[1]

Coolie Law

Beginning in 1860, Natal Colony began to import Indian workers (called "coolies" at the time) to supplement their labor force, and these Indians brought with them the habit of consuming cannabis and hashish, which blended with local African traditions already existing. The European authorities were concerned by this practice, believing it sapped the vitality of their Indian workers, and so in 1870 Natal's Coolie Law Consolidation prohibited: "the smoking, use, or possession by and the sale, barter, or gift to, any Coolies whatsoever, of any portion of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa)..."[1]


In 1922, South Africa restricted cannabis nationally, under the Customs and Excises Duty Act.[2][3] Cannabis was further prohibited in 1928 under the Medical, Dental, and Pharmacy Act No. 13.[4]

League of Nations

Following the Fifth Session of the League of Nations Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs, Secretary to the Prime Minister J. C. Van Tyen wrote the committee regarding South Africa's priorities:

I have the honour to inform you that, from the point of view of the Union of South Africa, the most important of all the habit-forming drugs is Indian hemp or 'Dagga' and this drug is not included in the international list. It is suggested that the various governments being parties to the International Opium Convention should be asked to include in their lists of habit forming drugs the following: Indian hemp: including the whole or any portion of the plants cannabis indica or cannabis sativa.[5]


Per the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: cannabis is a traditional crop in Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces; most of the national product is consumed domestically or regionally, with increasing amounts being seized in Continental Europe and the UK.[6]


In February 2014, a Member of Parliament from KwaZulu Natal, Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, introduced the Medical Innovations Bill, calling for legalization of 'medical and industrial' cannabis. Dr Oriani-Ombrosini was diagnosed with lung cancer and has been on cannabinoid treatment for the last 6 months.

Dagga Party

The Dagga Party (Iqela Lentsango) is registered with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the Western Cape. It was founded in February 2009 by Jeremy Acton, who remains the party's leader.[7]


"Dagga Couple" case

In 2016 Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, known in news media as the "Dagga Couple" received a court date for Pretoria's High Court, following a raid on their house where cannabis was confiscated.[8]

2016 protests

On 8 May 2016 3,000 people marched through the streets of Cape Town demanding legalization.[9]


  1. 1 2 Brian M. Du Toit (1991). Cannabis, alcohol, and the South African student: adolescent drug use, 1974-1985. Ohio University Center for International Studies. ISBN 978-0-89680-166-0.
  2. Martin Chanock (5 March 2001). The Making of South African Legal Culture 1902-1936: Fear, Favour and Prejudice. Cambridge University Press. pp. 94–. ISBN 978-0-521-79156-4.
  3. Craig Paterson (2009). Prohibition & Resistance: A Socio-political Exploration of the Changing Dynamics of the Southern African Cannabis Trade, C. 1850 - the Present. Rhodes University.. Cited in
  4. Vera Rubin (1 January 1975). Cannabis and Culture. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 107–. ISBN 978-3-11-081206-0.
  5. James H. Mills (11 September 2003). Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade, and Prohibition 1800-1928. OUP Oxford. pp. 160–1. ISBN 978-0-19-155465-0.
  6. William R. Brownfield (1 May 2011). International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Volume I: Drug and Chemical Control. DIANE Publishing. p. 557. ISBN 978-1-4379-8272-5.
  7. Glynnis Underhill (10 May 2013). "Dagga Party: Eight joints a day for Cape politician". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  8. Nina Oosthuizen (2016-09-02). "SABC News - The Trial of the Plant: Should SA legalise marijuana?:Friday 2 September 2016". Retrieved 2016-11-10.
  9. "Thousands take part in pro-cannabis protests in South Africa". Africanews. 2016-05-08. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
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