Just when you thought that South Africa was completely stuck in the mud on making even the slightest drug policy reform, the Central Drug Authority last week stone cold stunned everyone with a completely unexpected shift within its Position Paper on Cannabis.
The bit from the position paper that’s due to make for great headlines and soundbites over the coming months finally clarifies a long needed stance from the CDA on the increasingly pressing issue of cannabis, “There are few data to indicate that supply reduction via criminalisation is effective in reducing cannabis abuse. At the same time there are insufficient data to indicate that the legalisation of cannabis will not be harmful. The immediate focus should therefore be decriminalisation rather than legalisation.”
Citing the increasing global trend of cannabis’ legal status in countries such as Urguay and the USA, as well as the comparable harms of legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol, the CDA explained that the time for change is now. Medical marijuana also featured prominently in the paper, although going to great pains to explain that far more work needs to be carried out before entertaining the prospect of a local legal medical marijuana industry, “There is ongoing interest in the use of psychoactive ingredients of the cannabis plant in various other medical contexts, including for weight gain in HIV-positive patients. However, there are relatively few rigorous data in this area, and little is known about safe dose limits. In the SA setting, there is a need for greater health research in general, including work on
If anything though the CDA has come under criticism for being glacially slow and taking a half pregnant approach on the matter, “Unfortunately, the CDA continues to use stale arguments such as the dangers of cannabis to oppose its use as a medicinal herb. As we know, all medicines, including potentially lethal over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin and paracetamol, have many undesirable effects. Cannabis is no exception, but it is far less harmful than the above two drugs. It is also far less toxic than alcohol, which is associated with many kinds of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases.” said Dr Keith Scott in his South African Medical Journal editorial response to the paper, while also explaining why we should not settle for anything less than full legalisation; “The term ‘legal regulation’ does not imply an unregulated free market model of drug control. Rather it involves the implementation of strict controls in a policy area where there are currently very few. Supporters of the status quo – i.e. prohibition – oppose the less punitive model of legal regulation as a radical drug policy strategy. However, historical evidence demonstrates that it is prohibition that is a (failed) radical policy.”
Something that no one one was expecting was that during this story making waves, one of SA’s leading news sources would distastefully publish an online article titled “Dopeheads get high on dagga policy shift“. No sooner had we seen some constructive progress being made on a genuinely important Human Rights issue, than the Times Live reminded us with a swift kick to the consciousness that, to many, this is still just a laughing matter.
So while the The Dagga Couple’s court case remains on track and professional people in professional places get on with writing the cannabis rule book, there is still the court of public opinion that appears to have the longest way to go.