Updated on January 28, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Update: As of September 2018, private citizens can no longer be penalized for the possession of marijuana for private use. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo of the South African Supreme Court ruled any laws banning private consumption as unconstitutional.
The South African government hasn’t yet finished their laws regarding medical and recreational cannabis, but we have a good idea of who will qualify based on the Medicines Control Council’s recommendations. A recent court ruling also tells us who will be able to use cannabis without a prescription.
While discussing future medicinal cannabis regulations, Parliament decided on who could get a prescription for the drug. They agreed on letting patients with pain from multiple sclerosis, cancer or HIV/AIDS use it for relief. The MPs also considered allowing epileptic patients to get prescriptions to treat their seizures.
While these qualifications will help many people with severe health problems, they also leave some patients out. Anyone who doesn’t qualify for a prescription can at least take advantage of future recreational cannabis laws. The Western Cape High Court ruling requested new rules be created. These regulations would let adults do cannabis-related activities for personal use in the home.
Under future legislation, cannabis would change from a banned substance to a prescribed substance. This switch to a different drug schedule puts marijuana in the same category as prescription drugs already allowed. So, patients would only need to get authorization from their doctor and pick up their medicine from the pharmacy.
Unlike in some U.S. states, South African patients don’t need to get a medical cannabis card to obtain medication. They also don’t have to get additional approval from a government entity. Patients can get their medicine the same way they obtain non-cannabis medication. Extra regulations only happen at the cultivation, research and production levels.
If you don’t qualify for prescription marijuana medicine, you could medicate at home under adult-use laws if you’re of age. Recreational products may come from dispensaries focused on selling marijuana. No matter where you buy it, you are eligible if you are an adult.
Future cannabis laws in South Africa increase access to medical marijuana, in theory. But, how will they work in practice? Obstacles such as affordability and local attitudes could come up for some patients. Plus, if you rely on recreational marijuana for relief, you have limited freedoms.
While any doctor could write you a prescription for medicinal cannabis, not every physician will. Even if you have a qualifying health problem, a lack of training or prejudice against marijuana could cause a doctor to refuse writing you a prescription. And even if your practitioner agrees, we don’t know how expensive medical marijuana will be.
Getting rid of marijuana prohibition will let patients who can’t get a prescription medicate on their own terms. But, the new adult-use laws only allow an adult to use cannabis privately in their home. Patients who need to medicate outside their homes can’t do it legally.
By changing the drug schedule of marijuana to prescribed substance, the protections in place for other prescription drugs apply to cannabis medicine. The Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act No. 140 of 1992 has harsh penalties for people caught with cannabis, but it explicitly excludes patients, doctors and medical industry members from these punishments.
When marijuana medicine is prescribed in good faith and meets regulations, no party involved has to worry about breaking the law. If you act in accordance with other drug laws and only work with the authorized medicine, you are protected.
Once South Africa lets patients get prescriptions for marijuana medicine, you may want to know how to get one for yourself or a loved one. To learn more about South African medical marijuana, check out our other international pages and keep an eye on our global cannabis news to know when you can get access.