By Reon Janse van Rensburg
In 2018, the Constitutional Court in South Africa ruled that the use of cannabis is legal for both personal and medical use. However, it is still unlawful to use it outside of your private home as well as buying and selling it. There is one exception which is mentioned later.
Before the ban was lifted in 2018, advocates applied pressure to the government to amend the acts to allow for exemption for medical use, religious practices, and other purposes. The ban existed from 1922.
The Afrikaans word “dagga” comes from the Khoi-Khoi word dacha which was used by the early European settlers in the Western Cape.
What do experts say about cannabis?
According to Dr Lize Weich, senior psychiatrist and lecturer at Stellenbosch University, this herb is regarded by many as innocent herbal medicine, but there is an increasing concern about the detrimental influence thereof on people’s health.
“Smoking is the most common way of taking cannabis, so it is not a surprise that lung problems, chronic bronchitis and emphysema commonly occur among cannabis users,” Weich says.
Weich also explains that long-term use affects the memory and the ability to process information, and that it can lead to multiple psychiatric complications, such as panic attacks, anxiety, depression or psychotic symptoms.
A high dosage of cannabis is linked to a decrease in pro-social purposeful behaviour (when individuals choose actions based on certain expected outcomes), apathy and weaker perseverance abilities which is referred to by some people as “amotivational syndrome”.
The developing teenager brain is especially predisposed to the detrimental effects of using cannabis.
What is the influence of cannabis thus far on South African health care?
In May 2019, the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, announced that low dosages CBD products will fall outside drug regulations for one year. This means that any product containing CBD will not fall under heavy regulated medication and may be sold legally, but people will still need a prescription to obtain it.
CBD, or Cannabidiol (hempseed oil) is a popular natural substance which is used for many general illnesses. CBD is one of more than 100 chemical formulae known as cannabinoid in the cannabis plant Cannabis Sativa.
Products containing CBD became very popular over the years due to the health advantages and CBD is regarded as follows:
- It is not psychologically active, which means that it does not make you “high”.
- The substance is non-addictive (does not lead to dependency).
- It does not have dangerous side effects.
- It has advantages for a long list of ailments, such as anxiety, chronic pain, and insomnia.
CBD has been released with two conditions:
- The maximum daily dosage must be 200 mg or less.
- The suppliers may not advertise that CBD can cure a specific condition or can be used to treat a specific illness. It may only be advertised to have ‘general health improvement qualities’, or it can enhance the ‘maintenance of one’s health’, or it can ‘relieve mild symptoms’ if the symptoms are not linked to an illness or an aberration.
The exemption is subject to the following conditions for manufacturers and suppliers:
- They are entitled to protection from the exemption for products manufactured “from raw material and processed products from cannabis” if no extra CBD is added.
- The final product may contain only a small fraction of CBD (0,0075%) and a maximum of 0,001% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the most important psycho-active ingredient in cannabis.
- The exemption expires on 15 May 2020 unless it is renewed.
From schedule 7 to schedule 4:
Previously, CBD was classified as a schedule 7 drug, but is now classified as schedule 4. It was previously regulated as strictly as was the case with other drugs like heroïen. Because it now has a lower classification, your pharmacist may dispense it, but you must have a prescription like antibiotics.
The future of cannabis and health care:
The Premier of the Eastern Cape, Oscar Mabuyane, wants to make the province the home of the first cannabis industry. He has already started reading articles from interested international parties and is working on due diligence studies to register farms.
He says the stigma assigned to cannabis has been created by the perception that people just smoke it to get high, but that the aim is to enter the European and Canadian markets where medicine, bio-fuel and other products will be manufactured from cannabis.
The city of Cape Town announced in May that vacant land will be released to produce medicinal cannabis. The city hopes to get a foot in the door of this ‘unexplored industry’ in South Africa.
According to the city, the construction of such a facility will bring about an investment of R638 million in capital expenditure in Phase 1. A further R1,5 billion will be invested in Phase 2 which will commence in 2023.
During Cape Town’s first “Cannabis Expo” in April 2019, Webber Newdigate Attorneys advertised at their stall that they assist people who would like to obtain a licence. Matseliso Taka, on of the firm’s lawyers based in Lesotho (Lesotho legalised cannabis for medicinal use), said a client needs an application form, a production site, the necessary infrastructure, and experts to assist with the assessment of the environment in order to obtain a licence.
The process to obtain a licence for medicinal cannabis must take six months, but “unfortunately there is a lot of corruption in many countries in Africa”, Taka says and the only way to obtain a licence quickly is to follow other routes side-stepping the government.
The costs related to obtaining a licence is currently an obstacle. Nico Kriek, a pharmacist, regulating pharmacist and Managing Director of the Cannabis Compliance Bureau that assists people to obtain licences in South Africa, says it can cost up to R6 million.