05/03/2019

We have received so many enquiries regarding legalities around Cannabis in South Africa. The question that begs answers is simple, “Can South Africans legally grow dagga?”.

During September 2018, Deputy Chief Justice, Ramond Zondo, in the supreme court, ruled any laws banning the private use of cannabis as unconstitutional.

Many in our societies raised their hands in glee! However, it created mayhem and confusion as to whether cannabis remains an illegal drug in South Africa or not. The media in general offered conflicting reports. The police persisted in arresting people for the use and possession of Cannabis as per usual.

So, here’s where we stand:

Let’s say it out loud. It is important to note that in general Cannabis remains illegal to cultivate, possess or supply without the necessary authorisation from the department of health.

The supreme court judgement did not “legalise” dagga. What it did do was to question the constitutionality of legislation in question. It was aimed at the provisional “deemed right of privacy” defence to anyone charged with a dagga-related offense where the use, possession, purchase or cultivation of Cannabis in a private dwelling is for the personal consumption of an adult person. The court was in fact very clear not to confuse the issue of the legality of Cannabis in South Africa. The finding of the court should not be construed as a free ticket for drug trafficking and the social destructive activities of drug dealers. It merely questions the constitutionality of using Cannabis for recreational purposes by individuals performed in the confines of their own homes. It most definitely does not extend to minors!

In more simple terms the defence is only available to adults growing or using dagga in the privacy of their own homes and for personal use. Any other cultivation, possession or supply or even usage that falls outside the deemed defence remains to be fully prosecutable by law.

Justice Zondo did not prescribe how much is deemed to be for personal use nor did he state how many plants you may grow to qualify for “the defence”. Cannabis remains an illegal drug in South Africa. Employees cannot turn up at work “high” or with a “joint” in their hand and claim that it is legal. Only home use may qualify for the “deemed defence”.

The South African government is yet to finalise the laws regarding medical and recreational Cannabis. Progress in this regard has been slow and it would be sensible to use the Medicines Control Council’s (MCC) recommendations as a guideline to what the new act will dictate.

It seems as if parliament has already decided who can obtain prescriptions for Cannabis as a drug. They agreed on letting patients with pain from multiple sclerosis, cancer or HIV/Aids use medicinal cannabis for relief. The MP’s also considered allowing medicinal Cannabis for epileptic patients to treat their seizures. While theses qualifications will assist many people with severe health problems, they exclude the vast majority of patients suffering less pain but still in need of the exceptional medicinal qualities offered by Cannabis. The treatment of anxiety, loss of appetite, depression and nausea comes to mind as being excluded by the list of treatments dictated by the MCC whereas Cannabis has been proven an effective remedy in treating the listed ailments.

Under the future legislation, Cannabis would change from a banned substance to a prescribed substance. Cannabis-derived medication will fall within a similar category as prescription drugs that are already allowed in the medicinal fraternity. So, patients would only need to get authorisation or prescription to pick up their medicine from the pharmacy. South African patients will not have to obtain a Cannabis card like in America since a doctor prescription would suffice.

Regulations would evidently be aimed at controlling the cultivation, research and production of Cannabis for medicinal purposes.

It seems evident that if you do not qualify for prescription marijuana derived medicine, you will be permitted to medicate at home under the adult-use laws. This brings a whole host of challenges. The use of pesticides, herbicides, extraction methods and other high-risk chemical issues may find their way into the homegrown medicinal remedy.

The legalisation of medicinal Cannabis under dictated medical conditions is not without obstacles. Many doctors will in all probability refuse to prescribe Cannabis due to its adverse historical status as well as the neurological effect it has on humans. There is no clarity as to the pricing of medical Cannabis. Evidently these obstacles can be overcome through proper training and sensible price positioning of products.

Current clinical trials across the globe confirms the extraordinary medicinal value of Cannabis. The historic abuse and the neurological effects of Cannabis (THC) has unduly damaged the reputation of Cannabis in its medicinal form. This ill-deserved reputation caused the abandonment of research in medicinal Cannabis on a global scale. Now that many countries are reconsidering the legalisation of Cannabis in its medicinal form, more and more clinical studies prove the medicinal value hence the global relaxation of laws dictating the medicinal use of Cannabis. This will result in high expenditure in research and clinical studies that would prove the exceptional value of Cannabis as a medicine. It will also eventually adjust adverse paradigms in thought in the medical fraternity.

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