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Medical ‘dagga’ on the Horizon for South Africa

Pexels @ Julie Holmes

After two years of debate, South Africa may finally have regulated medicinal cannabis – or medicinal ‘dagga’, as they call it – as their Parliament recently announced their Department of Health will regulate access to medicinal cannabis for qualifying health conditions.

Parliament member Mr. Narend Singh proclaimed it a victory:

“This heralds a great step forward for public access and research into the use of medicinal cannabis. I feel a great sense of relief. I must thank the Department for taking up this issue with such passionate concern for our people. What matters now is that the Department ensures that access to medicinal cannabis will not be restricted to the rich, but that anyone who needs it will be able to afford it, and get it.”

This reform for medical marijuana was prompted by the Medicinal Innovation Bill. However, possession, cultivation, and recreational use of cannabis remains illegal across the board in South Africa.

The opposition

Some legislators complained the bill is too ambiguous when it comes to outlining how it will achieve its research and legalization goals without a heavy price tag to the State. Other opponents to the bill include The Central Drug Authority.

“At this stage we feel that the bill is confusing as it proposes medicinal use and other uses such as commercialisation of the plant, which we believe would add to more social problems that the country is facing,” said CDA Deputy Chairman David Bayever.

The Central Drug Authority was established to fight against substance abuse in South Africa and Bayever still thinks cannabis is a gateway drug – despite evidence to the contrary.

“Not only do we battle with alcohol and drug abuse, but we also lack treatment centres for drug users. In South Africa, only one in 18 users have access to treatment as opposed to countries such as Australia where one in every three users have access to treatment and one in every four in the U.S.,” he said.

Fighting the opposition, and cancer

The bill was spearheaded by Mario Oriani-Ambrosini as a private member’s bill as he was fighting his own battle with terminal lung cancer. Ambrosini recently died before the good news arrived.

He will be remembered for his compassion and strength, fighting for the plant as an alternative treatment for cancer patients as he was going through his terrifying prognosis.

Singh said, “Today I saw MPs across the political spectrum join together for the common good of all South Africans. The introduction of Dr. Oriani-Ambrosini’s Bill in 2014 galvanised a concerted effort by all stakeholders, the result being that we will shortly have a working blueprint and regulatory framework for access to medicinal cannabis in South Africa. We look forward to seeing that happen.”

The government of South America indicated that the new regulatory framework could be available as early as the end of January 2017 for stakeholder comment, and could be implemented as soon as April 2017.