At the end of last year we reported that government indicated it planned to legalise medical marijuana in South Africa. The Medical Controls Council (MCC) has just released its medical marijuana guidelines for the cultivation, production and use of medical cannabis. This is of significant importance to prospective medical cannabis growers, patients and all South Africans who are interested in seeing a legal cannabis market.
The document provides strict guidelines and information to applicants wanting to grow, test or manufacture medical cannabis related products in South Africa. It details critical production steps that are needed to ensure a product is of a reliable and reproducible quality. In other words, the entire growing process will be strictly monitored and controlled; from the security of your grow operation, training of staff and which strains are allowed to be grown to light intensity, temperature, humidity control and even time and method of harvesting.
There’s a lot of red tape to get through, but this is to be expected when growing standardised, medical grade cannabis.
3 types of licenses
There are currently 3 types of licenses that one can apply for.
1. Cultivate/grow and produce Cannabis and Cannabis resin;
2. Extract and test Cannabis, Cannabis resin and/or cannabinoids;
3. Manufacture a medicine containing cannabinoids.
Who can apply?
As far as it seems, anyone can apply. The MCC will assess your situation as long as you meet the extensive security, building and financial requirements. You’re also not allowed to have a criminal record, history of illicit drug use or a conviction for an illicit drug-related offence. License holders will need to comply with regular drug tests and security checks.
What this essentially means is that the experts in our current illicit industry will be excluded from participation in the new legal framework. Those who have been telling us all along that there is value in the plant while the MCC was telling us it had no recognised medicinal value; those that know how to grow the plant and have the best experience in doing so; those that risked their lives and livelihood to provide the medicine to those in need “against the law”, and those that deserve to be recognised as being right all along.
What can patients expect?
The proposed medical marijuana guidelines allow patients to access medicinal cannabis products by means of a prescription issued by a medical practitioner, where the product may be dispensed at pharmacy level.
The guidelines document the production of raw cannabis into “herbal” medicines that contain exclusively herbal substances. This may include medical cannabis products such as extracts, tinctures, oils or expressed juices or powders.
In exceptional cases, unregistered medicines containing Cannabis/cannabinoids may be prescribed by medical practitioners for medicinal purposes. This is unlikely to be dry herb though, but most likely the above mentioned “herbal” products, just not from your registered pharmacy.
What happens next?
The public has until the end of March to comment on the proposed medical marijuana guidelines document and legislation could be passed as soon as May. Although this is a step in the right direction, it will still be a highly controlled medicine to be explicitly used under scheduled conditions. The document essentially precludes many South Africans from accessing anything other than Dronabinol until another Schedule 6 cannabis medicine is registered.
While not entirely inaccessible to the majority on schedule alone, the cost of these products will determine how many actually benefit from these changes. No matter how the MCC wants to spin it, this document is one of exclusion and deviates from the constitutional rights many fight for.
If you ask us, we’ll still tell you it is illegal and for all intents and purposes it is. The simple fact of the matter is such: if you are permitted, by law, to produce and possess products such as morphine, chances are you might have a shot at a license. For the rest of us, there has never been a better time to band together and constructively resist and topple the monopoly of prohibition.
How to comment and leave feedback on the proposed guidelines
1. Download the MCC template for comments on regulations here.
2. Complete the template and email your feedback to Joey.Gouws@health.gov.za
3. Please CC firstname.lastname@example.org – so that your comments don’t disappear in Joey Gouws’ inbox!