The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services recently received inputs from the Department of Health on the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill. The committee invited the lead departments involved in the Cannabis Master Plan to give Members of the committee an idea of what is contained in the plan and to ensure that the plan is implemented.
The Chairperson of the committee, Mr Bulelani Magwanishe, said: "Last year, the committee agreed that there should not be a silo process to this issue. The committee wants to have an understanding of a broader government implementation of the re-industrialisation or industrialisation of the cannabis to improve our economy. There will be various pockets of work done by various departments and the committee is also a contributor through the Cannabis for Private Use Bill."
Mr Magwanishe went on to say: "The committee has invited the Department of Health that leads pillar one. We have also invited the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development that is an overall leader, and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition that is responsible for the industrialisation and commercialisation of cannabis."
The Department of Health, led by the Deputy Director-General Dr Anban Pillay, made a few suggestions on the Bill. Dr Pillay told the committee that allowing cannabis for private use is likely to lead to increased use of cannabis by adolescents due to more open use and therefore greater exposure. "Adolescents who are regular smokers of cannabis are at risk of having arrested psychosocial development, which would obviously lead to other medical consequences", he said.
The department further informed the committee that, as much as the Bill does address the need to protect children (under 18 years of age), it does not refer specifically to adolescents, nor does it go far enough in protecting adolescents from access and exposure to cannabis.
"Among other things, the Bill needs to specify that anyone giving or selling cannabis to a person under 18 or failing to protect a child or adolescent from accessing cannabis should be charged with having committed a class A offence. This should be viewed as a minor offence/infringement", said Dr Pillay.
He also said that the role of the department in relation to the cannabis masterplan is to remove any direct reference to cannabis in the Schedules to the Medicines Act; include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as a schedule 6 substance, with specified exclusions, and separately consider the scheduling status of other cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD).
He also informed the committee that the department plans to develop a policy on the protection of adolescents and mental healthcare users against the effects of cannabis use. "The department plans to review the Medicines and Related Substances Act to align it with the objectives of the National Cannabis Masterplan and to review the Foodstuffs, Cosmetic and Disinfectants Act to align it with the objectives of the cannabis masterplan and national health objectives," he said.
Members of the committee found the presentation helpful, as it focused on regulation on the back of a court judgement, which requires Parliament to facilitate private use of cannabis. The committee thanked the department for a good presentation. "You have made us to think deeply about the process. It's quite technical, especially at the definition stage. We request the information that was requested by members of the committee be submitted so we can further consider it when we do clause-by-clause consideration of the legislation after the public hearings," Mr Magwanishe said.