20 February 2017
Cape Town – The government has given the green light for the manufacture of cannabis for medicinal use – with the IFP hailing it a “major victory” and tribute to its late MP, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini who fought for the legalisation of the drug.
IFP MP Narend Singh said a letter sent to him by the Medical Control Council’s working group on cannabis – and seen by The Mercury – indicated it would publish its proposed guidelines on cannabis production for medicinal use following its presentation to the council last week.
“This is a major breakthrough and fantastic news for freedom of choice,” said Singh.
“Mario had fought tirelessly for this and although he proposed cannabis beyond medicinal use to also include it for recreational use, we agreed to withdraw every clause relating to non-medicinal use in our efforts to ensure it becomes legal.”
“Thousands of patients are already using cannabis oil, which comes at a premium price, and we wanted it to be made freely accessible so that the patient going to Addington or any other state hospital can request this without the exorbitant costs associated. Patients must have the freedom of choice,” said Singh.
Ambrosini placed the debate over cannabis use in the spotlight in Parliament in 2014, making a direct, impassioned plea to President Jacob Zuma to decriminalise its use. He lost his battle with lung cancer six months later.
The current framework allows for use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, but under strict regulations which include requesting permission from the Medical Control Council for use in certain exceptional circumstances by registered medical practitioners. Patients may also only use it under supervision.
The guidelines to be published will deal with how, specifically, the drug can be produced for medical use.
South Africa’s Anti-Drug Alliance said public and professional awareness needed to be improved around the issue.
“Health practitioners, doctors specifically, have not been educated or trained on cannabis as a treatment alternative. They need massive education once production becomes legal.
‘‘They need to unlearn a lot of the negative myths around cannabis if patients’ right to cannabis can be fully supported by health professionals,” said the organisation’s Quintin van Kerken.
Singh agreed, warning that the production of cannabis could be monopolised if not handled correctly.
“Production must be aimed at making it a medicinal, affordable drug for those who need it. It should not be an exclusive drug of choice for those who have the money. That is what we are arguing for.”
Cannabis oil use has fanned international debate in medical circles, with advocates of medicinal cannabis claiming its effectiveness in pain management and treatment of diseases including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Huffington Post also have the story and with a touch more detail
South Africa is another step closer to having cannabis (marijuana or dagga) legalised for medicinal purposes.
Inkatha Freedom Party member of Parliament (MP) Narend Singh said the Medicines Control Council (MCC) working group on cannabis had written to him saying it expects to publish soon its proposed guidelines on cannabis production for medicinal use.
“For us, this is a step in the right direction,” Singh told the Huffington Post South Africa on Monday.
“Well, actually the step in the right direction was when it was endorsed at the last formal, public meeting of the Health Portfolio Committee in November last year, where the department did indicate the intention to now relook at this matter and find ways and means of getting the research done.”
Singh said that the letter he received from the MCC’s Dr. Joey Gouws said: “I wish to confirm that our office is working on a number of guidance documents to be shared with the public relating to the manufacture of cannabis for medicinal purposes. These guideline documents have been prepared by the MCC cannabis working group, who will report to the MCC at their meeting of 16 and 17 February 2017 on the guidelines and investigations done to support regulatory processes for the manufacture of cannabis for medicinal use. Having said that, I trust that our office will be able to share the MCC proposed guidelines for the manufacture of cannabis for medicinal use on the MCC website following the planned MCC meeting of mid-February.”
In November 2016, the MCC issued a memo on the legal framework around legalising dagga for medicinal use.
“In recent years, a small but growing body of evidence has emerged suggesting that cannabis may have medicinal value for some patients in conditions where other treatments have failed,” said the memo.
“Licensed domestic cultivation of medicinal cannabis will be aimed at ensuring the supply of a standardised, quality assured product for medical, scientific and clinical research purposes, and the implementation of control measures necessary to prevent misuse and to ensure patient safety. Cannabis grown / cultivated for medicinal purposes, as well as any resulting products prepared from the plant material, will remain subject to stringent security and quality control measures.”
Singh couldn’t say how soon the draft documents could become law, as this would depend on factors including the public consultation.
There is also a case due to be heard before the Constitutional Court, calling for the full legalisation of marijuana, including for recreational use.
“It’s got nothing to do with that,” said Singh.
“This is very specific. The medical use is very, very specific. The recreational use and use for other purposes is really broader. Nobody is allowed to possess cannabis in our country at the moment, for whatever purposes.”
Singh said the hemp industry was interested in getting the strain of cannabis used for hemp legalised as well — you can’t get high on that strain — so it can be grown here instead of imported.
“Cannabis has got different strains, different varieties, different content. And we are importing, they say, [cannabis worth] R1 billion a year for hemp production, and we should be allowing that variety of cannabis to be grown in our own country,” said Singh.
However the Inkatha focus — and the focus of the potential legislation — is “purely on cannabis for medicinal purposes and its accessibility to those who need it”, said Singh.
“The department has identified many uses for palliative care for pain relief.”
The late Inkatha MP, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, introduced the Medical Innovation Bill in Parliament in February 2014 for the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes and, as a cancer sufferer in need of palliative pain relief himself, pleaded with MPs to support the change in the law. Inkatha has since taken up his Bill. Oriani-Ambrosini died of cancer six months later.