National

MPs consider marijuana stance

Andisiwe Makinana

Political parties are responding cautiously to a Bill that would legalise the medical use of cannabis in South Africa.

IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who has lung cancer, says cannabis has helped control the disease. (Gallo)

Some political parties represented in Parliament are cautiously optimistic about the prospects of decriminalising cannabis for medical purposes.

This week, the Mail & Guardian established that political parties don't have firm positions on the matter, but would support legalisation to decriminalise cannabis for medical purposes if it was proven to be safe and the issue was approached carefully.

ANC national spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said he wasn't aware if the ANC had a position on the matter, but referred a query about the party's position to Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor, who also chairs the ANC subcommittee on health and education.

But she hadn't responded at the time of going to press.

The Democratic Alliance spokesperson on health, Patricia Kopane, said the party hadn't taken a decision on whether it would support the Medical Innovation Bill tabled by Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini in Parliament last week.

Medical marijuana
The Bill seeks to make provision for innovation in medical treatment and to legalise the use of cannabinoids for medical purposes, as well as for beneficial commercial and industrial use.

"I have the Bill in front of me," Kopane said this week. "It is something that we are looking at. We will have a meeting on it next week."

Other parties, such as the Congress of the People (Cope) and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), said they will wait and see.

Cope national spokesperson Johann Abrie said the party viewed Ambrosini as one of the most effective MPs in Parliament and it was terribly sad that his health was suffering.

"But we have to be very cautious in how we approach this thing," he warned.

Evidence and proof
Cope will support a thorough investigation by the department of health to consider at medicinal cannabis and, if there is sufficient evidence that cannabis can alleviate the effects of terminal cancer, the party will support its decriminalisation, Abrie said.

The ACDP had a similar response. MP Cheryllyn Dudley said the party would fully support anything that gave medical benefits to people who needed it.

"We will make sure that people are not deprived of something that has medicinal benefits," she said. "If the people are in dire need, you can't deny them treatment."

But Dudley warned that there are concerns surrounding the use of cannabis and that the matter needs to be approached with caution.

The terminally ill Ambrosini, who is suffering from late-stage lung cancer, says unconventional and illegal medical treatment has extended his life expectancy.

He tabled the private member's Bill, after appealing to President Jacob Zuma to legalise medicinal cannabis as an alternative treatment for cancer patients, during a sitting of the National Assembly last week.

Prolonging life
Ambrosini told Zuma he was supposed to have died already but he is positive the cannabis remedy has prolonged his life.

"People are dying because of bad policies and bad laws, which we can change. There are available cancer treatments, which are not made available from a legal view point," he said.

Ambrosini later told journalists that the requested change in policy and law is to allow doctors to administer innovative, unproven but harmless cancer treatments in cases where other treatments cannot provide a cure.

This will take place on the basis of the patient's informed consent, thereby shielding doctors from both common law liability and medical profession requirements.

The changes to the law would also allow the minister of health to authorise, establish and fund one or more pilot studies.

If approved, it will decriminalise cannabis for medical treatment and industrial use.


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