SAPS Receive Clear Instructions on Cannabis-Related Arrests

SAPS Receive Clear Instructions on Cannabis-Related Arrests

In a significant move to address the ongoing uncertainties surrounding the legal status of cannabis in South Africa, the South African Police Services (SAPS) issued a directive on 23 August 2023. This directive emphasizes that officers should no longer arrest individuals for the personal cultivation and possession of cannabis.


The decriminalization of cannabis for personal use in 2018 was a landmark decision. However, despite this ruling, many South Africans have continued to express apprehension about potential arrests, especially given reports of raids on innocent growers even after the decriminalization. This directive is a step forward in alleviating these concerns and ensuring that the law is applied consistently and fairly.

Key Points from the Directive:

Decriminalization of Personal Use: The directive reiterates the 2018 Constitutional Court's decision to decriminalize the personal use of cannabis. It aims to reassure the public, especially those who have been wary due to the continuation of raids on growers post-decriminalization.

Directive's Authenticity: National police spokesperson, Colonel Athlenda Mathe, has gone on record to confirm the authenticity of this directive, ensuring its legitimacy.

Legal Ambiguities Addressed: Richard Chemaly, a high court lawyer, has pointed out the directive as a significant step since the 2018 Constitutional Court case. He emphasized the previously existing ambiguities surrounding the concept of "private use." While the directive provides clarity on the police's stance, Chemaly cautioned that it isn't a hard law but an internal document.

Dealing in Cannabis Remains Prohibited: The directive reminds the public that the Constitutional Court did not decriminalize the act of dealing in cannabis. Activities such as the importation, commercial cultivation, and sale of cannabis are still prohibited under the Drugs and Trafficking Act.

Lack of Quantitative Legislation: One of the major challenges has been the absence of legislation specifying the permissible quantities of cannabis for personal use. The directive acknowledges this gap, emphasizing that without a clear definition, SAPS is at risk of legal challenges for unlawful arrests.

Guidelines for Arrest: The directive provides clear guidelines for SAPS officers. Before making any cannabis-related arrests, they are advised to consult with the prosecuting authority. This step ensures that genuine crimes are being addressed and reduces the risk of unlawful detentions.

Clarifying the Concept of Private Space: The directive offers a comprehensive definition of what constitutes a private space. It's any area not accessible to the public by right. This includes the interiors of vehicles and any cannabis dispensed by traditional or religious healers in small quantities.

Compliance and Consequences: The directive is not just a guideline but a mandate. All SAPS members are expected to familiarize themselves with its content. Non-compliance could lead to disciplinary actions, ensuring that the directive is taken seriously.


The directive from the South African Police Services is a significant step in ensuring clarity for both its officers and the general public. By addressing the gray areas surrounding cannabis possession and cultivation, it aims to uphold the rights of citizens and ensure that the legal nuances surrounding cannabis are transparent and well-understood.


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