Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Update: In September 2018, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo declared that banning cannabis use by private adults was unconstitutional, making it no longer a criminal offense for an adult to be in possession of cannabis for private consumption.
South Africa is on the precipice of establishing a legal medicinal cannabis industry. After years of discussion, the government has issued guidelines for future marijuana legislation. How did this development come to pass? What implications do these events have for patients looking for natural relief?
The country currently has no laws in place for medical cannabis, but the Medicines Control Council (MCC) has issued guidelines. These recommendations will lay a foundation for any legislation submitted to them or the Department of Health.
The MCC’s suggestions involve setting up regulations for the growth and production of marijuana medicine, but they don’t mention a registry for patients to join. Instead, patients would need a prescription to obtain medical cannabis just like any other controlled medicine. So, South Africa would not have a program for patients, but it would instead establish authorities to monitor the industry.
In the Medical, Dental and Pharmacy Act No. 13 of 1928, South Africa banned what the act calls “habit-forming drugs.” The bill listed dagga, or marijuana, as one of these substances. It wouldn’t be until nearly a century later that South Africa would consider making it legal again.
Discussion of legalizing medical marijuana began in 2014, when MP Dr. Mario Orianai-Ambrosini introduced a bill suggesting it. In March 2017, the MCC published their draft guidelines for medical cannabis regulations and updated them in November. These recommendations will influence future laws on cannabis medicine and its production.
While South Africa technically bans all marijuana-related activities, a recent court ruling can protect people who use cannabis in private. The Western Cape High Court declared marijuana prohibition unconstitutional and requested that Parliament change related bills so adults can grow, own and use cannabis in their homes for personal purposes.
Even when a nation legalizes marijuana medicine, not every doctor will agree to authorize it for qualifying patients. This can be especially true in rural areas, which already have fewer options for patients. Fortunately, South Africa’s telemedicine market is quickly developing, and it will hopefully add patient-to-doctor communication soon.
South African officials plan to let patients with specific conditions use cannabis as medicine. People with cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis can take medical marijuana if the disorder causes severe or chronic pain. The government will also consider patients who have seizures due to epilepsy.
Certain countries ask patients to get a medicinal cannabis license before they can medicate. However, South African authorities plan to make marijuana medicine available by prescription. So, a prospective patient would simply consult with their doctor and ask for approval. Then, they would pick up their medication at a pharmacy, just like any other drug.
Here are a few things we know about South Africa’s medical marijuana program so far:
Depending on the severity of a marijuana-related offense, you could be punished with a fine or jail time up to 25 years. Authorities usually reserve the 25-year sentence for the most serious convictions. But, even using cannabis in your backyard can get you in trouble, despite prior court rulings.
South African patients are in the middle of an exciting time where laws related to medicinal cannabis treatment have unlimited potential. To be the first to know about any updates that happen in the country’s medical marijuana scene, follow our news and updates blog.