In a milestone moment, the first legal medical cannabis dispensary in the African continent has opened.
The dispensary, which opened on June 1 in the South African city of Durban, will sell imported products containing cannabidiol (CBD), a compound from the cannabis plant which offers a host of therapeutic and medical uses. This is legal, as the country’s Medicines Control Council rescheduled CBD in October 2017, meaning it can be legally possessed and used if acquired by a patient with a prescription. The dispensary does not stock any product containing cannabis’ THC compound (which delivers the “high”), as this remains illegal.
The dispensary was founded by investor and businessman Krithi Thaver, and is located within Durban’s Holistic Relief Wellness and Pain Management Centre. Thaver wants the dispensary to be more than just a provider of goods; he says the dispensary, as an institution, will advocate for cannabis law reform in South Africa, and teach patients how to produce their own cannabis-based medicines.
According to Thaver, the stigma around cannabis in South Africa means that people are often uninformed as to how to enjoy the greatest therapeutic benefits of the drug. Simultaneously, many who choose to use it are being criminalised by the state.
“We want to break the stigma around cannabis,” he told TalkingDrugs, “Many people in South Africa are using cannabis as a form of alternate medication, but they don’t understand that different compounds can be effective at treating different conditions. We want to train people who are producing their own [cannabis medication] to follow international standards, such as those in the US.”
Thaver is referring to the main product that his dispensary stock, CBD oil, for which pharmaceutical researchers discover new and profound medical uses for on a regular basis. Thaver says that CBD oil can be used for alleviating symptoms or pain associated with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic pain, epilepsy, and muscle spasms.
He hopes that his dispensary model can proliferate around South Africa, and pressure the national government to concede the failure of cannabis prohibition and introduce legislation that can help patients.
“We want to start engaging with the government to start the process of decriminalising cannabis in South Africa, and to lift all criminal charges against patients who have been criminalised for using cannabis. We want to educate those making the decisions on why cannabis is scientifically proven to treat people … [and] we want to get doctors who have clinical expertise involved so we can take the cause forward,” he told TalkingDrugs.
The past year has seen significant changes in the legal approach to cannabis in southern African countries. In April, Zimbabwe authorised the provision of licenses for people who seek to cultivate cannabis for medical or research purposes. This followed the legal regulation of medical cannabis production in Lesotho, which appears to permit production for certain foreign corporations, but continues to criminalise local farmers.
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