In 2018, South Africa’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling that effectively decriminalized cannabis: ordering that it should be legal for adults to grow and smoke cannabis in the privacy of their own home. According to the ruling, cannabis cultivated in a private place may only be used by the grower/cultivator and it is illegal to supply it to anyone else. It should also not be a crime to use and be in possession of cannabis for personal use in private.
Cannabis is listed as a schedule 7 substance (no legitimate medicinal use) under the country’s existing Medicines and Related Substances Act, 1865, unless it is “present in processed hemp fibre and products thereof, in a form not suitable for ingestion, smoking or inhaling purposes, and containing not more than 0.1% THC, or when present in processed products from cannabis seed containing not more than 0.001% THC,” according to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).
Cannabidiol (CBD) is listed as a schedule 4 substance (legal if prescribed by a physician). Some CBD preparations are excluded altogether front the scheduling list, if they contain a maximum daily dose of 20mg CBD or “consist of processed products made from cannabis raw plant material, where only the naturally occurring quantity of cannabinoids found in the source material are contained in the product, and which contain not more than 0,001 % of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and not more than 0,0075 % total cannabidiol (CBD).”
To date there are no registered cannabis-containing medicines in South Africa, though under the Medicines Act, people can acquire, use, and possess or cannabis for medical use if they have a permit from a medical practitioner. The Medicines Act also allows medical practitioners to apply for a license to import and distribute cannabis-containing medicines.
Under Section 22A(5)(f) of the Act, medical practitioners may prescribe and supply Dronabinol.
How to get a medical marijuana prescription in South Africa
1. Meet with your doctor about your condition
Patients who are interested in receiving medical cannabis products must contact an authorized health practitioner who has received a license from SAHPRA. This health practitioner can then apply on their behalf via the following link.
2. Have your physician send a request to your pharmacist
A pharmacist registered with the Pharmacy Council can provide medical cannabis products if they have received a prescription from the patient’s physician.
Qualifying health conditions for medical marijuana in South Africa
In South Africa, medical cannabis products can be prescribed for any health condition as long as the presiding physician determines that it could help in treatment.
The status of cannabis legalization in South Africa
Two years after the Supreme Court ruling that cannabis should not be illegal, in September 2020, South Africa’s parliament tabled a bill drafted by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development which aims to regulate the cultivation, possession, and use of cannabis by adults for personal use.
While the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill does not provide a framework for the operation of legal cannabis retail businesses, it would allow for cannabis members clubs to operate legally. These clubs allow members to have their cannabis grown at a club-run facility, from which they can receive monthly orders of cannabis flowers.
According to the South Africa Parliament, the Cannabis for Private Purposes bill is meant to “respect the right to privacy of an adult person to possess cannabis plant cultivation material; to cultivate a prescribed quantity of cannabis plants; possess a prescribed quantity of cannabis and to smoke and consume cannabis.”
It also states that the bill will delete and amend provisions of certain laws and “provide for the expungement of criminal records of persons convicted of possession or use of cannabis.
Asked by The Cannigma in October what the bill would mean in the meantime for people caught in possession of cannabis, a representative from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development said that they could comment on the bill because it was currently before Parliament.