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News Room

Medical Aid Schemes And Medical Marijuana

Melissa Cohen
2017-08-24
Medical Marijuana is still illegal in South Africa but many people are using it to treat illnesses. Will medical aid schemes cover this drug?
Whether you know it as Marijuana, Cannabis, Pot, Dagga or Weed, smoking this plant has become a common phenomenon globally. Marijuana is however, a highly contested and controversial topic in South Africa. With the recent law that has been passed by Judge Dennis Davis, people will soon be able to "use, grow or possess cannabis in the privacy of their own homes". Not only is it used for recreational purposes, but nowadays this plant is being used to assist in the treatment of deadly diseases. Marijuana helps to minimize pain and can stop the disease from worsening.

But Is It Legal In SA Yet? 

No it isn't. However there the government has 24 months to amend the law that states that private use of marijuana is legal. Until then, if you are caught you could face between 7-10 years in jail, or a hefty fine. In 2010, a South African couple, otherwise now known as the 'Dagga Couple' made headlines. They were arrested for being in possession of the illegal plant and were sent to spend a night in jail. Since then, they have lead various marches and petitions to legalize cannabis in the country. The late Inkatha Freedom Party MP, Mario Ambrosini also played a big part in the constant attention of marijuana in South Africa.

Medical Marijuana In South Africa

Ambrosini was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and spent his last few years of life suffering. He had tried every medical treatment on the block, which didn't seem to work. In 2013, he was given a few cannabis oil capsules to assist in the pain by Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford, who had terminal prostate cancer. Ambrosini found that the cannabis was really assisting in the pain that he was feeling. He even admitted the use of the plant to the president in parliament.
"I must admit, I have just smoked dagga because if I hadn’t, I would have had to use morphine and then I would not be standing here.”
Before his passing, Ambrosini proposed the implementation of the Medical Innovation Bill to parliament. The Bill was only passed after his death, however it was seen as heading in the right direction.
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The Current State Of Medical Marijuana In SA

So not only is recreational marijuana illegal in SA, but so is medical marijuana. There are a number of people who are still buying medical marijuana and the demand is high, however the government is still not budging. Verve Dynamics is an alternative medicine manufacturing company in Cape Town. They are the first company to grow and produce top end quality medical marijuana.
"Access to medicinal cannabis on the African continent has taken another major step forward today. Verve Dynamics is honoured to be the first company in Africa to have been granted regulatory approval to begin the process of growing and producing high quality cannabis extracts commercially”, explained Managing Partner at Verve Dynamics Richard Davies.
Although there is production of this illegal product, the Medical Control Council has yet to evaluate and approve the product. Once it has been approved, companies providing marijuana will have to carefully monitored. This is to ensure that the drug is only distributed for medicinal purposes to the correct people. Manufacturers will also have apply to the Director-General of Health for a permit.

What If You Are Found In Possession Of Weed?

According to medical marijuana distributor, Ralph Higgo, admitting guilt is the worst thing you could do.
"Over 115g of plant material is considered to be 'dealing'. South Africans can however use Judge Dennis Davis's ruling as a defense. Do not sign the admission of guilt. Apply for a stay of prosecution. This has and can be done," explains Higgo.
This is even if you are using the drug for medical purposes. Higgo mentions that the medical marijuana is considered  a Schedule 7 drug. This means that it is very difficult to get and if you are in need of this drug, you would have to motivate a strong case as to why you need it.

Do Medical Aid Schemes Cover Alternative Medicine? 

Currently many medical aid schemes are covering a few forms of alternative medicine however not marijuana. According to Discovery Health's Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, any medicine that falls outside of the governance of the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act 101 of 1965 as amended these substances. The Medicines Control Council released a press release regarding the legalisation of medical marijuana in South Africa. The release states the following:
"Under this Act, medical practitioners can apply to the Council for permission to access and prescribe unregistered medicines - including cannabis - for their patients in certain exceptional circumstances."
It goes on to mention that "authorization from Council is dependent on the submission of an appropriate dosage regimen and acceptable justification for the proposed and intended use." Dr Nematswerani explains that alternative treatments have been available for many years.  "The Complementary and Alternative Medicines legislation is the Medicines Control Council’s proposed mechanism to regulate alternative treatments in the interest of public safety."

Medical Marijuana And Its Future...

There is definitely a promising future for alternative medicine, more specifically medical marijuana. Although it is not legal just yet, the prospects of it becoming legal in the near future is very promising.
"Access to medicinal cannabis is aimed at being responsive to the wishes of patients and their carers in respect of conditions for which alternative, effective treatments are not available," states the Medicines Control Council's press release.
Higgo mentions that marijuana is a growing industry that will make people a lot of money, medical aids will jump on the band wagon.
"When it is legalized there are going to be so many people using it. Medical aid schemes are about making money so I am sure that they will unless NHI doesn't allow for it."
Time will surely tell so for the moment, it's best to keep your nose clean and wait until the drug is officially legal. *If you have been charged with possession of marijuana, check out this website for more info.
Read More about National Health Insurance here and how it is threatening the medical field below
 
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