Medical Innovation Bill – Central Drug Authority

Every time I visit the Houses of Parliament for the Portfolio of Health meetings, I am struck by how beautiful this venerable old building is.

I often think that if the walls could talk, they would reveal many secrets. This last week, however, I think the walls would have been shocked into silence to discover that the subject under discussion was marijuana. The purpose of the Medical Innovation Bill (MIB) is to make provision for the innovation of cannabinoids in medical treatment and to legalise its use for medical purposes, as well as for commercial and industrial use.The CDA was very concerned that the two issues should be separated. If one was talking about the provision of cannabinoids for the innovation of medical treatment, then clearly one was talking about marijuana, the drug, whereas the legalisation of the use of cannabinoids for medical purposes, and for official commercial and industrial use, referred to marijuana, the plant.

The CDA’s current position was:

  • Data on smoking cannabis indicated that this practice was unhealthy; it was linked to cardiovascular and respiratory disorders, as well as to cognitive impairment and mental disorders.
  • Given the significant public health problem represented by cannabis, particularly highly potent cannabis, its recreational use should be prevented.
  • Components of cannabis had been suggested to be effective in a few medical conditions, such as refractory seizures, and access to medical marijuana may therefore be needed.
  • Cannabis was safer than alcohol and many other substances, but did not have as many immediately recognisable effects, and the policy regarding cannabis should reflect this key point.

There was a need to strengthen community education and awareness on cannabis for medicinal use. This was being borne out by the message that was going out, particularly to the youth. In other parts of the world, the decriminalisation or legalisation, or the allowing of cannabis for medicinal use, was sending a message to the youth in particular that this was a soft drug, and that therefore one should be dealing with it similarly in South Africa. The context in SA was very different to what it was in other parts of the world. Parenting was key for modelling and shaping of the behaviour of young people who were vulnerable to cannabis use and/or abuse, and this was fueled by what was happening in other parts of the world.

Roundtable discussions at grassroots and academic levels had highlighted that in the South African context, cannabis was an integral part of some religious, cultural and traditional practices, which one needed to be sensitive to. No comprehensive cost analysis had been conducted in SA on the economic implications of cannabis use. It had been established that cannabis was the most common illicit substance among the country’s young people and children, and it was the youth that the CDA was most concerned about. The Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency in the South African plant was higher than in other parts of the world, which was why there was a need to consider this in the South African context. On average, 6.3% of the South African population used cannabis, as opposed to the world average of 3.8%.

Members asked about the palliative use of marijuana for potentially chronic, life-threatening conditions, and whether there were benefits to using cannabis that might possibly outweigh the risks associated with its use. They agreed that the issue of the use of marijuana for medicinal and research purposes needed to separated from the issue of the use of marijuana for recreational and other purposes. Another referred to the irony of suggesting a carcinogen for the treatment of cancer. There was general agreement that more research was needed before informed decisions on the Bill could be made.

Progress so far of the Medical Innovation Bill – Mr M. G. R. Oriani-Ambrosini (IFP) (PMB1-2014) Private Member Bill: Bills that are drawn up by private members, as opposed to ministers or committees.

  • National Assembly – 19 February 2014 – Bill introduced in the National Assembly by MP M Oriani-Ambrosini
  • Unknown – 22 July 2014 – Bill lapsed in terms of Rule 298 but had been revived on this date
  • PC Health – 17 September 2014 – Medical Innovation Bill: briefing by Mr N Singh MP; Department of Health 1st Quarter Performance
  • PC Health – 11 March 2015 – Medical Innovation Bill: Medicines Control Council briefing, in presence of Deputy Minister
  • PC Health – 27 May 2015 – Medical Innovation Bill: Medical Research Council and clinicians’ submissions public participation
  • PC Health – 12 August 2015 – Medical Innovation Bill: Central Drug Authority opinion
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