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UNLOCKING LOCAL CANNABISAndrew LawrieINTRODUCTIONDespite many recent developments, South Africa's cannabis regime still suffers from some fundamental inefficiencies, which, if removed, stand to make our cannabis industry vastly more accessible.CLASSIFYING & REGULATING CANNABIS IN SOUTH AFRICAAt the time of writing, cannabis is classified and regulated as: private property – any adult in South Africa can now use, possess and cultivate cannabis plants, provided that such cannabis plants are possessed, used or cultivated, in private, for personal consumption;
medicine – in terms of the Medicines and Related Substances Act 101 of 1965 (“the Medicines Act”). The Medicines Act does not deal with the whole of the cannabis plant, but, rather, with only two cannabinoids which naturally occur in cannabis, namely CBD (schedule 0 or 4) and THC (schedule 6); and
an illegal drug – in terms of the Drugs and Drugs Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 (“the Drugs Act”). In this regard, the Drugs Act criminalises use, possession or dealing in:
Cannabis as “the whole plant, or any portion thereof” - this includes all parts of the plant, i.e. the cannabinoids (among others, CBD and THC), seeds, roots, stems, leaves and flowers and all forms of the plant i.e males, females, hemp etc; and
INEFFICIENCIESHEMPPresently, hemp is defined through certain exclusions in the definitions of CBD and THC in schedules 4 and 6 of the Medicines Act. This means that hemp which meets said exclusions, will not be regulated under the Medicines Act.
At the time of writing, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (“DAFF”) is in the process of establishing a greatly simplified permit and licensing regime for hemp, as an agricultural crop, as opposed to a drug or a medicine.
However, irrespective of what DAFF decide in this regard, the all-encompassing classifications of cannabis and THC in the Drugs Act, still render hemp an illegal drug.
In order to remove this impediment and allow DAFF to proceed with its hemp agenda, the same exclusions as contained in the definitions of CBD and THC in schedules 4 and 6 of the Medicines Act, need to be added to the definitions of cannabis and THC in the Drugs Act. MEDICINAL CANNABISPresently, South Africa has a well-established value chain when it comes to medicines. Medicines must be manufactured, distributed, wholesaled, imported and exported under a license in terms of section 22C(1)(b) of the Medicines Act (“s22C License”). Then, depending on the scheduling of the medicine, same can be sold in the retail sector, by the persons listed in section 22A of the Medicines Act.
The only two impediments to cannabis being plugged into medicine’s existing value chain are:
the considerable resources and time required in order to get a 22C License to cultivate cannabis; and
the time it takes to register a cannabis-based medicine.
We submit that it is entirely unnecessary and even overboard to require cannabis cultivators to obtain a 22C License. In a world where cannabis cultivators would not need s22C Licenses:
the next entity up the value chain (manufacturers of cannabis-based medicines), would then take over the responsibility of ensuring that the cannabis is of a medical standard; and the next entity up the value chain (manufacturers of cannabis-based medicines), would then take over the responsibility of ensuring that the cannabis is of a medical standard; and
cannabis that is not up to standard, would be returned to the cultivators and cannabis that is up to standard, would be used by the manufacturers to create and register medicines.
However, registering a medicine through SAHPRA, ordinarily takes up to 5 years. We submit that SAHPRA would benefit in this regard by simply attributing a higher value to clinical data collected from other, more advanced, cannabis jurisdictions CANNABIS TRADE IN GENERALWhen it comes to regulating the sale of cannabis, a useful analogy can be gleaned from the act of brewing beer – I can grow as much hops and barley as I like. I can even combine said hops and barley with yeast and water, in order to make as much of my own beer as I like. However, the minute I want to sell my beer, I am required to get a liquor licence.
The suggestion here is that (1) South Africans should be able to grow as much cannabis as they like, and (2) that if they want to sell such cannabis, for example:
recreationally, they should have to obtain some form of recreational licence which guarantees safety and quality; or
as a medicine, they should have to do so under a medical license; etc.