Mario Ambrosini’s legacy in Parliament lives on. While the National Assembly has not passed his proposed Bill into law, the state has accepted his proposal for innovation in medical treatment and use of cannabinoids for medical purposes.
After 45 months since Ambrosini tabled his Medical Innovation Bill, which sought to decriminalise medical marijuana, the National Assembly has put the proposed law, better known as the marijuana bill, to rest when it adopted a health portfolio committee report explaining why it was not necessary to have a specific law, but instead that the objectives of the Bill were incorporated into other health laws and that regulations which accommodated some of Ambrosini’s proposals have been gazetted.
In his words, the late Inkatha Freedom Party MP wanted a law that sought to allow doctors to administer innovative and unproven, but harmless, cancer treatments in cases where other treatments cannot provide a cure and on the basis of the patient’s informed consensus, thereby shielding doctors from common law liability and medical profession requirements. The Bill would allow the minister of health to authorise, establish and resource one or more pilot, innovative cancer treatment centres where doctors would be allowed to act in terms of the above. It also called for the government to decriminalise and liberalise cannabis for medical treatment and industrial use.
He tabled the Bill in February 2014 shortly after he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He died in August 2014. In an emotional plea to President Jacob Zuma during a debate on the State of the Nation that year, Ambrosini said: “I am here today not to oppose you, but to plea with you to provide a voice to the many people who are in my condition, who do not have a voice. Cancer is the greatest pandemic this country is facing. People are dying because of bad policies and because of bad laws which we can change. There are available cancer treatments which are not made available from a legal viewpoint and I stand here as the expression of that problem.”
Ambrosini revealed that he had been taking illegal treatments in Italy “in the form of bicarbonate of soda and here in South Africa in the form of cannabis, marijuana, dagga”. It was either these or “I would be packed with morphine and would not be able to speak with you Mr President,” he said.
Narend Singh, the IFP MP who reintroduced the Bill to the National Assembly following Ambrosini’s passing, told City Press that he was satisfied with the outcome.
“The objectives of the Bill since its introduction and after extensive discussions with the department of health and the Medicines Control Council have been accommodated in regulations that have been gazetted,” he said.
“Those regulations and discussions with the Medicines Control Council include, among other things, an application by citizens to go buy cannabis for medical purposes, to conduct research, to also conduct discussions with the departments of trade and industry, agriculture and health on hemp production,” he added.
Singh said this had been an initiative from the health department’s side, to which the IFP agreed.
“But the Bill was a catalyst for all of this to happen. “I am satisfied with the outcome and the IFP is satisfied that the objectives of the Bill were accommodated in legislation,” he said.
Labour Laws Amendment Bill passed
Meanwhile, the National Assembly passed the Labour Laws Amendment Bill which makes provision for paternity leave, adoptive and surrogacy leave. The Bill became the second private member’s bill to be passed by Parliament since 1994; and a first by an opposition MP.
It was introduced to the National Assembly by the African Christian Democratic Party MP Cheryllyn Dudley. Interestingly, it was Ambrosini’s legal challenge of parliamentary rules which made it possible for MPs to introduce private members’ bills in the National Assembly.
He had tried to introduce the National Credit Act Amendment Bill in the National Assembly in 2009, without having obtained the permission required by the impugned rules. For this reason, the then speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu, refused him permission to introduce the Bill. The rules prohibited an MP from introducing a Bill in Parliament unless he or she had first received permission to do so from the majority of the National Assembly.
Ambrosini approached the Western Cape High Court, challenging the constitutionality of parliamentary rules regarding the introduction of private members’ bills. He lost the case but appealed to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in his favour in 2012. This opened the way for individual MPs from any political party to table proposed legislation in Parliament, under what they call the Ambrosini rule.
Yesterday, trade union federation Cosatu welcomed the passing of the Labour Laws Amendment Bill saying it will not only see billions of rands released from the Unemployment Insurance Fund into the pockets of workers, but will also help fathers play greater roles in taking care of their new born children. The Bill will be sent to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence.