what is 420

Happy ‘420’: SA marijuana laws explained – To keep you out of jail

Andile Sicetsha - 20.04.2021

Enjoy a peaceful ‘420’ with this info pack on the latest South African laws on marijuana use.

At a time when global legislation has begun the process of overhauling prohibition against the recreational use of marijuana, it comes as no surprise that more people are joining in the celebrations of 420.

What is 420?

Ask a weed smoker what 420 is, and you will get a variety of responses with the numeric as the common denominator. For some, whenever they see the numbers ‘420’, in any form, it’s a call from the higher-ups to pull out and light up a blunt.

Others observe this numeric symbol in a more spiritual way. Whenever the clock strikes 16:20, purists see it as a sign from King Selassie to elevate one’s mind to an ethereal state.

Whatever the true definition of 420 may be, it is connected to a ritual — smoking — commonly practised by marijuana users. Former editor of the pro-marijuana publication High Times, Steven Hager, told the New York Times in an interview that 420 can be traced back to the 1970s.

His version of the 420 origin story is:

A group of Californian teenagers ritualistically smoked marijuana every day at 4:20 pm. The ritual spread, and soon 420 became code for smoking marijuana.

While this remains an unverified narrative, it still remains as one with the most credible evidence.

In truth, no one knows the true origins of 420 celebrations. It is a phenomenon that speaks volumes about the impact of community — that humans, from all walks of life, can share a ritualistic belief about a plant, with very little historical context to back it up.

What does the law say about marijuana use in South Africa?

South Africa is one of many countries in the midst of a historic transformation with regards to its marijuana legistlation.

You are still likely to be arrested and charged with drug use or peddling if you are found in possession of marijuana in South Africa. In some way, it is still viewed by law as an illicit substance.

But, due to the movement of the Cannabis Bill and its adoption in Parliament, there are a few important exceptions that are granted to those who use marijuana recreationally.

So, here is the low-down. The Cannabis Bill:

  • removes the need to arrest and prosecute people on minor marijuana-related cases;
  • makes way for cannabis dealers to face up to 15 years in prison if the plant was sold to a child;
  • gives police the right to arrest a person caught smoking marijuana in public with a maximum prison term of two years;
  • provides the State with powers to institute a maximum prison term of four years if a person is caught smoking marijuana around children;
  • grants persons the right to have unlimited seeds and seedlings, but a maximum of four flowering plants for personal use;
  • adults living in the same household can have a maximum of eight plants for personal use; and
    grants persons a possession limit of 600 grams of dried cannabis for those who live alone, and 1.2kg in homes with two or more adults.