SA Police Force’s New Memo About Not Arresting Cannabis Users Is Just A Civil Claims Defence Issue

Cannabis Culture explains…

No arrests are to be made for private or personal and private cultivation and/or possession of cannabis, which activities are not criminal,” an internal memo from the South Africa police commander to the force’s rank and file was issued on 23 August.

Weak link

The South Africa police has been cited as the weakest link in the country’s drive to become a world-class cannabis investment destination. Its smashing of greenhouses, detention of party goers who are found with small rolls of cannabis and prosecuting of underage kids found in possession of cannabis has been loudly condemned by cannabis entrepreneurs, rights lawyers and ordinary citisens. 

However, it seems the main motivation of the South Africa police new memo, is not to climb down over their overzealous and wrongful arrests of ordinary citizens possessing cannabis, but to avoid their officers’ police from exposed to “civil claims for unlawful arrests and detention.”

“It’s a self-serving, shameless decision by the police, but very welcome nevertheless,” Brian Daliqebo, a criminal defense lawyer in South Africa who represents dozens of clients who seek to have cannabis possession ‘crime’ records expunged by police. 

“They are afraid of paying millions and going bankrupt in cases where lawyers press against wrongful detention. Courts were being swamped with frivolous cannabis cases – and parliament was being pressurized to steamroll a law clarifying what cannabis legalization really means in everyday life.”

Stifling records

Cannabis Culture previously reported that police records for cannabis possession, which are yet to be automatically expunged in South Africa have today condemned countless white and Black South Africans  (ex-soldiers, students, youths, civil workers, pastors)  from decent work, foreign visas, emigration because the in a ‘free’ new South Africa, the police refuses to expunge historical cannabis individual ‘criminal’ records even though the country’s supreme court, in a landmark ruling in 2018, decriminalized cannabis use.

“It is good that the police are sort of walking back,” says Jacob Mano, 26, who says a ‘crime’ record for smoking a joint at a beach party when he was 18 has blocked him from gaining a place in nursing school despite stellar school marks that qualifies him for medical school. 

“Yes, we heard the police have been told not to arrest us, but we still fear the police – and we would be happier if cannabis ‘crime’ records are totally expunged from police databases,” Mano says. 

South Africa’s over-criminalization of cannabis-dealing, carried out by police, was hurting small startups that are moving into the lucrative cannabis cultivation sector, says Dikeledi Matla, chairperson of the Soweto Cannabis Alliance Forum, a lobby for Indigenous growers in South Africa, tells Cannabis Culture.

“There are disturbing incidents of police smashing cannabis greenhouses, ransacking equipment worth millions and having the audacity to take the entrepreneurs through expensive prosecution. Will those aggrieved by past, illegal police behavior be compensated? It’s not enough to issue a police memo saying we are sorry, we are no longer going to arrest cannabis possessors,” says Matla. 

For Indigenous cannabis growers in South Africa, the latest police memo is welcome but a time to demand justice. “We demand reparations for our cannabis fields poisoned by sprays from police helicopters,” says Watude Boxa, a rural cannabis cultivator in Eastern Cape which is South Africa’s poorest province. 

Cannabis and bribes

The latest memo that instructs police officers not to arrest residents with cannabis for personal use will not sit well in the rank and file of police, says lawyer Daliqebo. “South Africa police are quite corrupt and cannabis possessions were a gold mine for bribe taking. Low rank officers enjoyed asking for bribes for those found with small packets of cannabis in exchange for dropping prosecution. The new rule takes away that money making chance” he says. 

Sergeant Fazile Hlapo, spokesperson for the South Africa police says the force won’t tolerate any officer who asks for bribes in any cannabis encounter with civilians. “It’s a straight ground for expulsion from the police force,” he says.

But that’s easier than done, says Daliqebo the cannabis-rights lawyer. “This new police memo has not filtered to lower educated civilians especially in rural areas. They will be unaware of their rights and that exposes the poor to continue offering bribes to police to get away from tricky cannabis situations,” he says. 

Ordinary civilians who possess cannabis for personal use will no longer be arrested in South Africa. The country’s police, notorious for effecting illegal arrests on cannabis users, has finally capitulated.

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