20/02/2017 12:51 SAST | Updated 20/02/2017 15:13 SAST

Medicines Control Council Moves The Medical Legalisation of Dagga A Step Closer

Draft guidelines on how cannabis may be legally produced for medical purposes are due to be published.

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South Africa is another step closer to having cannabis (marijuana or dagga) legalised for medicinal purposes.

Inkatha Freedom Party member of Parliament (MP) Narend Singh said the Medicines Control Council (MCC) working group on cannabis had written to him saying it expects to publish soon its proposed guidelines on cannabis production for medicinal use.

"For us, this is a step in the right direction," Singh told the Huffington Post South Africa on Monday.

"Well, actually the step in the right direction was when it was endorsed at the last formal, public meeting of the Health Portfolio Committee in November last year, where the department did indicate the intention to now relook at this matter and find ways and means of getting the research done."

Singh said that the letter he received from the MCC's Dr. Joey Gouws said: "I wish to confirm that our office is working on a number of guidance documents to be shared with the public relating to the manufacture of cannabis for medicinal purposes. These guideline documents have been prepared by the MCC cannabis working group, who will report to the MCC at their meeting of 16 and 17 February 2017 on the guidelines and investigations done to support regulatory processes for the manufacture of cannabis for medicinal use. Having said that, I trust that our office will be able to share the MCC proposed guidelines for the manufacture of cannabis for medicinal use on the MCC website following the planned MCC meeting of mid-February."

In November 2016, the MCC issued a memo on the legal framework around legalising dagga for medicinal use.

"In recent years, a small but growing body of evidence has emerged suggesting that cannabis may have medicinal value for some patients in conditions where other treatments have failed," said the memo.

"Licensed domestic cultivation of medicinal cannabis will be aimed at ensuring the supply of a standardised, quality assured product for medical, scientific and clinical research purposes, and the implementation of control measures necessary to prevent misuse and to ensure patient safety. Cannabis grown / cultivated for medicinal purposes, as well as any resulting products prepared from the plant material, will remain subject to stringent security and quality control measures."

Singh couldn't say how soon the draft documents could become law, as this would depend on factors including the public consultation.

There is also a case due to be heard before the Constitutional Court, calling for the full legalisation of marijuana, including for recreational use.

"It's got nothing to do with that," said Singh.

"This is very specific. The medical use is very, very specific. The recreational use and use for other purposes is really broader. Nobody is allowed to possess cannabis in our country at the moment, for whatever purposes."

Singh said the hemp industry was interested in getting the strain of cannabis used for hemp legalised as well — you can't get high on that strain — so it can be grown here instead of imported.

"Cannabis has got different strains, different varieties, different content. And we are importing, they say, [cannabis worth] R1 billion a year for hemp production, and we should be allowing that variety of cannabis to be grown in our own country," said Singh.

However the Inkatha focus — and the focus of the potential legislation — is "purely on cannabis for medicinal purposes and its accessibility to those who need it", said Singh.

"The department has identified many uses for palliative care for pain relief."

The late Inkatha MP, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, introduced the Medical Innovation Bill in Parliament in February 2014 for the legalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes and, as a cancer sufferer in need of palliative pain relief himself, pleaded with MPs to support the change in the law. Inkatha has since taken up his Bill. Oriani-Ambrosini died of cancer six months later.