Dagga medicine legal by April?

The late IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini with the 2013 position paper that introduced the Medical Innovation Bill (MIB) of 2014.
The late IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini with the 2013 position paper that introduced the Medical Innovation Bill (MIB) of 2014.

KZN's thousands of medicinal cannabis users yesterday celebrated an announcement that medicinal cannabis for prescribed illnesses may be regulated as soon as April, instead of criminalised.

Among the interest groups that are watching the announcement with keen interest are 30 palliative care nurses, who last week attended a talk on using cannabis to provide cheap pain relief to and fight early stage cancers among KZN’s many indigent pensioners.

The IFP’s chief whip in parliament, Narend Singh, said the news from parliament’s portfolio committee on health was a victory for his late colleague Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who introduced the Medical Innovation Bill (MIB) while terminally ill with cancer. “This heralds a great step forward for public access and research into the use of medicinal cannabis … What matters now is that the department ensures that access to medicinal cannabis will not be restricted to the rich,” said Singh yesterday.

Health officials told the committee 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.

Singh thanked MPs from across the political spectrum who joined to promote the aims of the MIB. Even DA MPs have now changed their stance on the bill, which they initially opposed as “ill-conceived”. The DA yesterday stated the proposed reforms would empower the soon-to-be established South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) to license specific producers of cannabis.

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One dagga activist told The Witness while the news to “legalise instead of criminalise” dagga was a huge step in the right direction for SA, the Medical Innovations Bill would put big pharmaceutical companies in control of production.

The activist said this may mean that rural and local medicinal cannabis producers can be sued under patent laws for using a plant “which has healed humanity for thousands of years”.

SA Cannabis Community and Regulatory Authority (Saccra) spokesperson Jason O’Donoghue said the next step suppliers had to take was to set a standard of excellence, both in growing and making from dagga tea to full extracts.

He also urged both buyers and growers to learn everything they could about CBD (cannabidiol) and CBN (cannabinol), as these cannabinoids were potent medicines, but too much could have biphasic results.

O’Donoghue said there were too many people selling full extract at R1 000 to treat mild aches and pains, for which a free, homegrown dagga tea would have been perfect.

Law out of joint with times

While demand for medicinal cannabis is on the increase among health carers and pensioners, KZN’s justice system is still arresting and prosecuting anyone found with any part of the plant.

This contradicts the recommendations by Professor Dan Steyn, who in the position statement on cannabis for the executive committee of the Central Drug Authority, emphasises the need for “harm reduction strategies against continued and chronic use of alcohol and cannabis, and the potential value of a focus on decriminalisation rather than the outlawing and possession of cannabis”.

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