South African Marijuana Legalization May Become Medical-Only


Last year, a member of the South African Parliament named Mario Oriani-Ambrosini proposed the Medical Innovation Bill. This law would legalize the commercial, industrial, and medical applications of dagga, the local term for cannabis. Mr. Oriani-Ambrosini died of cancer, but his bill lives on in the Parliament’s Health Committee, where members of the INKATHA Freedom Party are asking that the commercial and industrial regulations be deleted so the bill focuses only on medical marijuana.

The INKATHA Freedom Party is a minor party that collected just 2.4 percent of the vote in the 2014 elections, holding just ten of the 400 seats in a Parliament governed by the African National Congress with 249 seats.

The next leading party, the Democratic Alliance with 89 seats, has also called for a medical-only bill. Its health minister, Wilmot James, has called the current bill “over-reaching”. Though Mr. Oriani-Ambrosini said he lived longer than predicted thanks to cannabis treatments he received and was a close friend, Mr. James counseled members of parliament to “leave emotion aside and consider the bill rationally,” according to South Africa Business Daily.

Mr. David Bayever, Deputy Chairperson for the South African Central Drug Authority, testified to the Health Committee that dagga use is unhealthy and leads to respiratory, cardiovascular, mental, and cognitive disorders. He concluded that more research on cannabis was necessary before moving forward.

The South African Medical Research Council has also weighed in on the bill back in May, saying that “the issue of medical cannabis should be separated from legalization of cannabis.”

The bill itself is very short. Unlike American medical marijuana laws (except California’s), it allows for the use of dagga for the treatments of “a medical condition which, if not cured, may cause the patient’s death or severe impairment to his or her medical condition or quality of life”. The medical aspect calls for the establishment of one of more health service providers to provide cannabis treatments.

However, the bill goes beyond simply authorizing cannabis as a medical treatment. In fact, it calls for “Innovation in absence of evidence-based treatment” in a section that allows health care providers to embark on treatments for which “there is no research or other evidence” or “evidence is insufficient or uncertain”.

The bill also states that “no one shall be liable or guilty of any offense for growing, processing, distributing, using, prescribing, advertising or otherwise dealing with or promoting cannabinoids for purposes of [medical] treatment”. But the next clause adds “and commercial or industrial uses or products”, which the opponents wish to strip from the bill.

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland 2015.