New smoking and cannabis laws in the pipeline for South Africa this year

 ·15 Feb 2023

South Africa is set to see some major changes to tobacco, vape and cannabis smoking this year with a handful of new regulations in the pipeline.

New bills relating to smoking form part of the 42 bills before Parliament, which include a mix of consequential, medium-level and minor legislation, said the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG).

The PMG is an information service group aimed at ensuring there is an accessible and online public record of completed and planned policy decisions made by South Africa’s Parliament.

“If we go by history, we can expect a lot more to be introduced during the year,” said the organisation.

There is a higher volume of bills tabled in a pre-election year as the administration tries to fulfil its election promises, and individual lawmakers have a final chance to make their mark, said the PMG.

The new Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill is currently sitting before the National Assembly after its recent introduction to Parliament at the tail-end of 2022 following extensive consultation.

According to the PMG, the bill broadly aims to provide control over smoking and the smoking industry by implementing regulations extending to e-cigarettes.

It empowers the minister of health to prescribe certain public places and outdoor areas as no-smoking areas and initiate changes to the packaging and advertisement of tobacco products.

The new tobacco bill will also prohibit the display of tobacco products, as well as e-cigarettes, vapes, and heat-not-burn products, in all retail settings, including speciality tobacco stores.

Ultimately, the new bill will regulate the emerging cigarette market that has operated for years in a legal grey area if it comes into law.

The bill has taken its time getting to Parliament’s ongoing battles between the government and the tobacco industry on balancing public health and industry business interests.

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Since September, the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill has been slowly making its way through Parliament.

The PMG said the bill was necessitated by the Western Cape High Court ruling in 2017, which found sections of the Drugs Act and Drug Trafficking Act unconstitutional, effectively allowing adults to use and grow the plant for personal use in the privacy of their own homes.

In late 2022, the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services requested permission to extend the subject of the bill – awaiting confirmation.

Cannabis laws have historically been in limbo, leaving consumers and growers uncertain about the boundaries of regulations.

The new bill aims to address grey areas regarding the use, cultivation and selling of cannabis in South Africa.

One such grey area is what a ‘private space’ is. Under current laws, it is permitted to use and grow cannabis in private spaces. However, it is still unclear what exactly is defined as a “private space”.

This lack of clarity has caused confusion as to whether areas such as one’s home, car, or other owned spaces are considered private and, therefore, permissible for cannabis use and cultivation.

Towards the end of last year, Myrtle Clarke, the founder of Green for All, said that during consultations, Parliament is not taking into account amendments proposed by the private sector.

Clarke said that versions of the regulations that have been emerging for public comment are more unconstitutional than they were before the amendment process started.

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