Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Update September 2018: The Supreme Court in South Africa ruled that banning private usage of cannabis is unconstitutional and that any law prohibiting the private use of marijuana was invalid. This means that it is no longer illegal for adults to be in possession of cannabis for private consumption.
Since South Africa hasn’t set their medical cannabis laws in stone yet, it’s important to keep the current ones in mind, whether you’re a citizen or a visitor. Even though the Medicines Control Council (MCC) issued guidelines, they don’t count as official legislation quite yet.
The Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act No. 140 of 1992 outlaws dagga, the South African term for marijuana. But, due to events that occurred in 2017, these rules won’t stay in place for long. After three years of discussion among government officials, the MCC created guidelines for potential medical cannabis laws. In November of that year, they revised them based on public comment.
South Africa also opened the doors for legal recreational marijuana in 2017. The Western Cape High Court ruled cannabis prohibition illegal in March, requesting changes to legislation within two years. This ruling declared the private cultivation, possession and use of marijuana legal.
The MCC’s guidelines establish a system where growers, producers and researchers can apply to work with cannabis. Professionals who obtain a marijuana license can create medicine available to patients via prescription. Patients would not need to apply for a permit themselves — they would only need to go to a pharmacy to get their medication.
Under the guidelines, licensed workers can use marijuana plants to create “herbal medicine” such as tinctures, resin, oils, extracts and more. All medicinal cannabis products must meet a set of standards that make them fit for patient consumption. Industry employees must also follow procedures that ensure quality medicine.
Thanks to the Western Cape High Court’s March 2017 ruling, adults will eventually have the right to do cannabis-related activities at home for personal reasons. But, the government hasn’t developed laws based on this decision. This situation leaves people who want to use cannabis in their home in a gray area. While they can mention the ruling as a “defense to a charge” in court, they can still be arrested and charged.
South Africa also technically doesn’t have any medical marijuana laws in place, so it still counts as recreational cannabis. You must wait until the government finalizes the legislation before you can use marijuana medicine legally.
The guidelines proposed by the MCC could make cannabis medication accessible to many patients. They permit domestic cultivation and production, increasing the availability and affordability of medicine. But, the suitable conditions list prevents patients not considered from using medical marijuana for other symptoms. For instance, spasticity isn’t mentioned at all, despite the overwhelming evidence showing cannabis’ effectiveness for it.
Once any recreational marijuana laws go into effect, patients who don’t fit into the list of health problems will be able to medicate at home. But, if someone needs to take their medicine outside of the house, they can’t do so legally.
By considering medical marijuana a prescription drug, the MCC recommendations implicitly protect patients and doctors. While the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act No. 140 of 1992 harshly punishes illegal drug activity, it provides medical exceptions. If a doctor or pharmacist acts in accordance with regulations, the prescription they write protects all parties from persecution. The licenses mentioned in the guidelines also sanction industry professionals and researchers.
Developments in adult-use marijuana laws could add extra protections, as well. While these regulations will only cover private home activities, they will still give patients who can’t get a prescription an option.
If you can’t wait until the government completes the laws mentioned in this article, we don’t blame you. Patients deserve natural treatment options like the ones these new rules will offer. To learn about any updates on this exciting topic, be sure to follow our cannabis news blog.