MMJ Moves Forward in South Africa

Some cannabis advocates bemoan the lack of movement on legalizing adult use, but medical marijuana seems to be moving forward in South Africa.

The cannabis revolution continues to march forward across the globe. In South Africa, where the plant known as “dagga” has long been both cherished and banned, medical marijuana may be just over the horizon.

South Africa appears to be on the verge of recognizing cannabis as a legitimate medicine, with the creation of a permitting scheme to produce a “controlled” and standardized supply soon to follow.

South Africa is home to the coastal town of Durban, from which the potent landrace sativa strain Durban Poison gets its name, but cannabis or “dagga” as the plant is known there, has long been a banned substance in the country, . 

But unlike other English-speaking countries like the U.S. and the U.K., where government authorities hang on to prohibition for dear life, South African Prime Minister Jacob Zuma’s government has embraced the potential of cannabis as a medicine and is moving quickly to make legal weed a reality.

A bill that would legalize medical marijuana as an alternative medicine is currently making its way through the country’s Parliament. In the meantime, health officials are spending time seriously researching the drug as a medicine, as opposed to cooking up reasons why it should remain banned — take note America and Britain. 

A report in the Cape Town Argus said officials from South Africa’s Medicines Control Council testified before the country’s National Assembly that cultivation permits could be available as soon as February.

This rapid progress is being made thanks in no small part to political pressure from leaders like Narend Singh, chief whip for South African IFP party, who said he sees weed as a way to provide a plentiful palliative cure to the poor.

“What I would like to see is that cannabis products should be made available to all, including the poor,” Singh said. “At the moment, these drugs are available on the black market and they are very expensive. That means many poor South Africans don’t have access to these drugs despite their pain-relief benefits for chronic pain.”

So what’s next? South Africa’s Parliament may approve a piece of legislation called the Medical Innovation Bill. If they do, cannabis research and controlled cultivation are a go. However, the Argus also reported that national health officials could simply create their own cultivation regulations,making the passage of the bill unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the Medicines Control Council is moving towards rescheduling cannabis from “Schedule 7” — an outright ban — to “Schedule 6,” where it could be prescribed as medicine.

The movement to legalize medical marijuana in South Africa took off in 2014, after a member of Parliament was stricken with terminal cancer. After his death, the IFP made medical marijuana a priority. 

What’s most remarkable about this from a North American outsider’s perspective is how drama-free the process appears. They’re having an honest conversation backed by science and moving forward — why can’t we have this in America, again?

To be fair, South African marijuana advocates say this progress is too little, too late — and too slow. They criticize the same government for vehemently opposing any effort to legalize adult-use cannabis consumption.

TELL US, have you ever tried Durban Poison?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

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