It’s been three years since the medical Innovation Bill was submitted to Parliament by the late Mario Ambrosini. Yesterday saw Parliament’s Portfolio Committee of Health, who is in charge of this bill, finally make an announcement about what has been the most contentious aspect of it, medical cannabis. Government will soon regulate medical cannabis for prescribed health conditions.
To say that the Medical Innovation Bill has seen its fair share of ups and downs would be an understatement. I had the good fortune of seeing and commenting on it before it was presented to parliament. The humble couple of pages that it was inspired hope for change in South Africa’s medical cannabis policy. It was by no means a Hail Mary and caused much bickering and conflicts as soon as it became public. But this was always going to happen, as the Bill in itself was far too brief and ambiguous to put everyone’s mind at ease. But that’s where the point was probably lost on many. This was, simply put, the efforts of a dying man to get the ball rolling.
Speaking after the announcement by the Medicines Control Council and the Department of Health in Parliament today, Mr Singh of the IFP said, “This heralds a great step forward for public access and research into the use of medicinal cannabis. I feel a great sense of relief. I must thank the Department for taking up this issue with such passionate concern for our people. What matters now is that the Department ensures that access to medicinal cannabis will not be restricted to the rich, but that anyone who needs it will be able to afford it, and get it.”
The Department has indicated that 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 added, “Today I saw MPs across the political spectrum join together for the common good of all South Africans. The introduction of Dr Oriani-Ambrosini’s Bill in 2014 galvanised a concerted effort by all stakeholders, the result being that we will shortly have a working blueprint and regulatory framework for access to medicinal cannabis in South Africa. We look forward to seeing that happen.”
Even the DA got in on the action “We welcome the progressive path that the Department has taken on this issue and urge the Minister of Health to sign-off on the new regulations so that the process can be opened up to public comment.
The faster this process can be undertaken, the quicker these products can be made available to those who need it. This will ultimately give patients and their health care provider’s greater choice in treating certain difficult conditions through the use of safe, medicinal cannabis.”
There was talk by the committee of moving cannabis from a Schedule 7 Substance classified as having no medical value to a Schedule 6 rating that will remain extremely restrictive on the research, production and distribution of the plant. This is something that prominent local activists, The Dagga Couple, were concerned about. “We monitored tweets from an ENCA reporter at a parliamentary hearing in Cape Town. There was talk of taking dagga out of schedule 7 and reducing it to schedule 6 to get round Section 21 medical growers license applications. This, of course, will have no bearing on the +/-1000 daily arrests for possession in SA.”
Come what may with all the T, H & C’s that will now be penned by official people in official places, it remains to be seen if medical cannabis in South Africa will be a product by the people for the people or if it will be Zupta’fied into some highly profitable industry that will only benefit a very select few or only the very sick.