The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill is coming up for air again. The controversial draft bill is on the agenda for two days of discussion by Parliament’s Justice and Correctional Services Committee next week.
Parliamentary secretary Vhonani Ramaano confirmed to Cannabiz Africa on 26 August 2021 that the hearings are scheduled to take place from Tuesday, 31 August 2021 to Thursday 2 September 2021.
The discussions will be based on the numerous submissions made to Parliament before the period for public submission closed in November 2020. The Bill seeks to regulate the legal consumption of cannabis as per the Constitutional Court ruling of September 2018 but drew flak from many quarters when opened to the public for comment. It has been redrafted for discussion by MP’s before it goes to the legislature to be voted into law.
SAHPRA and Health Department highlight dangers of legalization for adolescents
Business Day Online reports that as a prelude to the hearings, the committee heard the views of the Department of Health (DoH) and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) on Tuesday, 25 August 2021.
Deputy Director-General in the National Department of Health, Dr Anban Pillay, told MPs that allowing cannabis for private use is likely to lead to its increased use by adolescents due to more open use and greater exposure.
The bill does outlaw the use of cannabis by those under the age of 18 years and takes care to prohibit their exposure to its inhalation.
“We do think that it [the bill] does not go far enough in protecting adolescents from accessing and exposure to cannabis,” Dr Pillay said. The bill should specify that anyone giving or selling cannabis to a person under the age of 18, or failing to protect a child or adolescent from accessing cannabis should be charged with committing an offence, he said.
Concern over long-term effects on adolescent brain
“Adolescents who are regular smokers of cannabis are at risk of what we call arrested psychosocial development which would obviously lead to other medical consequences,” Dr Pillay said.
“There is also a growing concern over the long-term effects of regular cannabis use on the adolescent brain,” he said. “We need to remember that the human brain development continues until the age of about 25. So this is also a concern, particularly for young people who are in emerging adulthood and their access to cannabis and their consumption of the product.”
Dr Pillay noted there were also short-term effects on cognitive functioning and memory with the consumption of cannabis.
Dr Pillay: legalization could be a ‘slippery slope’
He noted that cannabis use also affected the perceptual motor functioning of drivers and increased the risk of motor vehicle accidents. This was covered by the bill, but Pillay said the police needed to be trained and equipped to deal with the offence.
Increased use of cannabis as a result of the bill would increase the need for psychiatric services, which were already chronically under-resourced and unlikely to cope with increased demand, Dr Pillay said. Cannabis misuse accounted for 22%-40% of drug abuse treatment in Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, while 77% of drug abuse treatment in the Free State, the North West and the Northern Cape were among persons 19 years and younger.
“This has been a trend that has been increasing over the past decade,” Dr Pillay said. “We have concerns that the bill may cause a slippery slope” in terms of cultivation, trade and use, despite the prohibitions in the bill. The public needed to be made aware of the harms associated with cannabis use, he said.