The Centre for Child Law has asked the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) to decriminalise the use of cannabis by children, says a Sunday Times report.

‘We are not saying children should smoke or grow but it cannot be criminalised,’ Advocate Morgan Courtenay, representing the centre, told Judges Ratha Mokgoathleng and Ingrid Opperman.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has been ordered to provide submissions giving the state's view on the issue.

The application comes after four children appeared in the Krugersdorp Magistrate's Court last year charged with marijuana possession. The prosecution decided the teenagers would be enrolled in a diversion programme, Drug Child, which meant they did not get criminal records and had to go for rehabilitation.

But in February, Opperman ordered their release, saying it was unlawful to place them in an in-patient facility for 12 weeks.

The Sunday Times notes the request for the legalisation of cannabis is reminiscent of the 2013 Constitutional Court judgment that decriminalised sex between minors under the age of 16, in a case brought by the NGO Teddy Bear Clinic.

It argued that the law had resulted in many children getting criminal records for having consensual sex with people in their own age group.

The Teddy Bear Clinic case forms part of the Centre for Child Law's application in the cannabis matter.

Last year, the possession of cannabis for private use was legalised, though some interpretations of the Constitutional Court ruling suggest this applies only to adults.

However, Courtenay said it was up to the court to determine if prosecuting minors for smoking marijuana, or sending them through diversion programmes, was in their best interests.

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)