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.