Apartheid’s 1971 Drug Law: Between Cannabis and Control in South Africa

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In South Africa, contradictions within colonial and apartheid state-making constituted “drugs” as a deeply political category. This is shown through the case of dagga/cannabis, a substance with a centuries-long history of indigenous uses and meanings, transformed into a subversive market commodity during the twentieth century. This article examines a key development of this dynamic: the making and impacts of South Africa’s Abuse of Dependence-Producing Substances and Rehabilitation Centres Act, No. 41 of 1971. The law augmented the carceral power of a racist state. However, apartheid’s policies of segregation and indirect rule nurtured conditions in which commercial cannabis production could thrive. This paradox helps explain why apartheid’s drug war continued into South Africa’s “non-racial” democratic era. Propositions for cannabis decolonialization must push beyond the binary relational categories and periodizations of colonialism itself to account for the contingencies of power, as well as the “everyday” transformative agency of users and producers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-200
Number of pages37
JournalSocial History of Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Law


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