A cannabis plant is seen inside a house in Montevideo, Uruguay. Picture: Miguel Rojo

Saber Ahmed Jazbhay says IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini’s draft bill on medicinal cannabis merits debate.

 Durban - The consideration of legalising cannabis merits a wider debate. As unpopular and controversial as it may be, it’s time we debated and made an informed decision.

That is what our constitutional democracy guarantees, a robust and candid discussion and debate on matters of mutual interest.

And no, I don’t use cannabis or any other narcotics. And no, I don’t advocate the use of narcotics for recreational purposes either. But, yes, the sale and use of over-the-counter drugs sanctioned by our laws motivates me to open the discussion.

Cancer sufferer Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, the late IFP legislator, died without realising his dream of passing a law that would legalise the sale, for medicinal purposes, of cannabis by-products, subject to strict regulations, of course.

True, South Africa is a signatory to an international convention against the production, sale and consumption of narcotics. The international convention, according to my reading, does not ban outright the production and sale of by-products of narcotics, otherwise countries such as Afghanistan that produce heroin by-products would be out of business through sanctions and so on.

Our Constitutional Court, dealing with the case of a candidate attorney – a Rastafarian by religious persuasion – alluded to the lack of legal and regulatory supervision for the religious consumption of cannabis as the reason why it would not sanction the applicant’s request to be permitted to use cannabis as part of religious rituals.

That decision was correct because there are no guarantees against the abuse of cannabis in its raw form. The religion may sanction its use, but unsupervised it could be open to abuse, so the court leant in favour of the government.

Ambrosini’s draft bill is different and merits a wider debate. It seeks to extract, as I understand it, the medicinal by-product of cannabis, free from its hallucinogenic and narcotic properties that alter the user’s state of mind, for use under certain strictly regulated conditions. What is wrong with that?

What surprises me is why experts, scientists and chemists especially, are silent on the issue of whether cannabis by-products alleviate the pain and suffering of cancer patients, particularly those at advanced stages of the disease whose dignity was compromised and for whom conventional medicine was not helping.

Unless, as allegations go, they are paid votaries of those multibillion-rand drug companies, aka cartels, that also subsidise politicians and political parties.

Ambrosini was courageous enough to admit that he used cannabis to alleviate the debilitating effects and the pain experienced as a result of lung cancer and, being a public figure, we all empathised and condoned his use in view of his critical condition.

There are thousands of known sufferers of cancer and multiple sclerosis who do not have the same gravitas as Ambrosini did and for whom conventional drugs merely provide palliative care at best. They suffer in silence and on the periphery, which is offensive to their human rights to live reasonable quality lives.

I lost two close relatives to cancer and a third is at the terminal stage and subsisting on morphine.

Let’s end this charade and get the law passed so that the government can fulfil its constitutional mandate of serving every South African, especially those marginalised and out of sight.

The Mercury

* Saber Ahmed Jazbhay is a Durban lawyer.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.