Picture: AP
Parliament - Potential growers of cannabis for medicinal purposes could apply for licences before the year is out, it emerged in Parliament on Wednesday.

Briefing the portfolio committee on health, the Medicines Control Council's Griffiths Molewa said they would approve regulations in the next few weeks.

Proposed guidelines for growing cannabis for medicinal purposes was published for comment in March. Hundreds of comments were received, including 175 from members of the public, 221 from associations and NGO's, four from industry associations and two from government departments.

The regulations were established to change the scheduling of cannabis from a banned substance to a prescribed substance for medical use.

"The MCC is meeting next week to approve these [regulations and application forms] and once they have approved them they are for use by the public," health director general Precious Matsoso said.

Matsoso said the legalisation of cannabis use for medicinal purposes was a huge step and need various government departments to buy in and assist.

"In terms of the growing process, the Agricultural Research Council has been applying, but now it's a process that requires partnership between, among others, the department of agriculture, the department of science and technology and the department of trade and industry," she said.

"I'm hoping that for this purpose there will be an inter-ministerial committee. It's something that's so significant it requires that kind of response."

The growing of cannabis will not be a free for all as the department has to guard against the abuse of dagga. Strict requirement for growers will be set.

These requirements include good agricultural practices, the vetting of staff who will be working in the cannabis environment.

MPs were told hygiene would be the "cornerstone" of cultivating and growing dagga and the manufacture of its related products.

Strict security requirement would also be set. 

Access to medicinal cannabis would also have limits. Patients who would qualify would include people suffering from severe and chronic pain related to multiple sclerosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Those suffering from severe seizures related to epilepsy would also be considered.

The use of cannabis for medical purposes was brought sharply to the attention of Parliament when a cancer-ridden Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP Mario Oriani Ambrosini pleaded with his colleagues to change the law as he had been using cannabis for pain relief.

Ambrosini died in 2014, but his colleagues in the IFP, including MP Narend Singh, were continuing to fight for the use of the plant for medical purposes.

"At least we are now beginning to move from prohibition to regulation which is something that we also wanted, particularly the use of cannabis for medicinal use," said Singh.

The IFP MP said he'll be travelling to Pretoria to meet the MCC and related bodies to clear up administrative requirements and how the regulations can "be applied in the South African context".

Singh said Ambrosini would have been happy with the progress, but probably would have wanted cannabis for recreational use included.

"I think he would be smiling from up there but I think he would be saying, Singh 'I don't think you did enough, you should have said we need to smoke the stuff', but that's a debate for another day."

African News Agency