The legalization of marijuana is one step closer to being realized, with the Department of Health forging ahead with plans to recognize it as a prescription drug rather than a banned substance.
The Medicines Control Council (MCC) told MPs it has made progress in its investigation into the medicinal use of cannabis.
Briefing the National Assembly committee on health, MCC registrar Dr Joey Gouws said by February the regulatory body could start the regulation process by issuing permits to allow the controlled cultivation and supply of standardized high quality medicinal cannabis products.
The council is expected to publish the regulations by February.
One of the proposals that the council has made as part of the amendment of the Medicines and Related Substances Act, which is awaiting promulgation by President Jacob Zuma, was the scheduling of cannabis be downgraded from Schedule 7, a banned substance, to Schedule 6, a prescription drug.
While the Act has always permitted the use of cannabis for research purposes, it remains illegal to use the plant for medicinal purposes.
The council briefed Parliament on Wednesday on its research in light of the proposed Medical Innovation Bill, which seeks to legalize the plant for medicinal use.
The Bill seeks to pave the way for research and approval of alternative medicines to treat cancer and other terminal illnesses. The party has argued cannabis is effective in relieving pain.
They also believe in its inexpensive healing properties and that it could be used to counter unaffordable healthcare.
On Wednesday, MPs commended the Department of Health on its “remarkable progress” in its research aimed at legalizing cannabis, with IFP chief whip Narend Singh saying it would consider withdrawing its tabling of the Medical Innovation Bill if the new regulations met the objectives of the Bill.
“What I would like to see is that cannabis products should be made available to all, including the poor. 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.”
On Wednesday, Gouws said as part of future legislation, patients that should be eligible for treatment include those who had severe chronic pain arising from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, HIV/Aids and cancer.
She said there was, however, the need for ongoing research and clinical trials that researched the long-term effects of using cannabis, including addiction potential and cognitive impairment on users.
MCC council member Professor Shabir Banoo said discussions with various stakeholders was already under way.
He described the Medicines and Related Substances Act as an enabling piece of legislation, saying the only aspect that was not yet available was the licensing of cultivation of quality-assured products.