As of this weekend, South African juveniles caught for the simple use of cannabis (possession of small amounts or consumption) can no longer be imprisoned, following a verdict by the Johannesburg High Court.
The original case before the court involved four children who tested positive for dagga at school and were placed in “compulsory residence” for an indefinite time in two youth protection centers. The Johannesburg High Court ordered their immediate release in February 2019.
Concerning drug testing in schools, South African law makes it clear that the principal must have reasonable suspicion to carry out a test, that no criminal proceedings can be brought, that the results must remain confidential and only allow for disciplinary procedures.
The question put to the judges, however, was whether criminal sanctions should be imposed on children when the Constitutional Court had legalized the private use of cannabis for adults.
It is a narrow question about decriminalizing the use and possession [of cannabis] so that a more appropriate alternative provided for children,” the judges said.
All parties agreed that section 4b of the Drug Trafficking Act, as it applied to children, was unconstitutional and that a child-centered approach should be proposed to combat drug use and abuse, which should include drug awareness, educational programs and treatment, and rehabilitation.
Pending the completion of the law reform process referred to in this ruling [editor’s note: the legalization of cannabis in South Africa], to correct the constitutional flaws, no child can be arrested or prosecuted and diverted for violating the impugned provision,” the judge said.