Decriminalising marijuana for Medical Use


Day two of the post-State of the Nation Address (SONA) debate in Parliament saw Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu announcing that government was looking into the possibility of decriminalising marijuana for medical use.

The call came after ailing Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who was last year diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, made a plea to President Jacob Zuma to consider making it legal in South Africa to use marijuana for medical reasons, saying not doing so would be a “crime against humanity”.

Ambrosini said he had not used the drug illegally and opted to use other medicines; he could have died and would not have been able to stand before the National Assembly to make the plea.

As Ambrosini used the plea as part of his debate, Sisulu consulted with Heath Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, and later said: “Mr Ambrosini, I have worked with you for many years and it hurts me to see you in the state that you are in. I had a word, as you were speaking, with the Minister of Health and he indicates to me we are really keen to follow up on the discussion and research around the world on the issue of the potential of decriminalising medical marijuana. We are a caring society.”

While tempers usually flare in Parliament during debates that border on political ideologies between the ruling ANC and the opposition parties, Ambrosini’s moving debate speech yesterday left Zuma, ministers, Members of Parliament and the public gallery speechless on Wednesday.

After telling the house that decriminalising marijuana for medical use would help millions of South Africans who are suffering from his condition, Ambrosini said the move would contribute to transforming the health sector.

In his address, Ambrosini had said: “Mr President, you have known me for 20 years … I am speaking to you today somehow a changed man, not to curse you, but to plead with you to provide a voice for many people with my condition.”

Despite representing an opposition, his statement received a standing ovation from all members of the house.

Earlier, Motsoaledi reiterated the main message from Zuma’s SONA speech last Thursday, that South Africa was better today than it was in 1994, and that government has a good story to tell.

Motsoaledi’s health prescription note

The minister said after South Africa successfully rolled-out an HIV/ Aids campaign that is being modelled around the world, the same would, going forward, be done with other diseases.

He said a new war had been declared on cervical cancer. According to statistics, cervical cancer affects over 6 000 women annually, and just over half of these cases result in death.

Motsoaledi said 80% of cervical cancer victims were African women and that the disease was most likely to affect women who are HIV positive.

It is propagated by a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

“Honourable Speaker, Human Papilloma Virus has a vaccine.  It is called the HPV vaccine. The World Health Organisation advises us to vaccinate sexually naive young girls.

“I am happy to announce that we are ready to vaccinate young girls against this disease from March this year. We shall vaccinate all the grade 4 learners in public schools.   This will then happen every subsequent year in our schools – it will be a feature of any grade 4 class from this year and forever.”

Motsoaledi also announced a mass roll-out of a contraceptive called sub-dermal implant, which is implanted sub-dermally and lasts for up to three years. The R1 700 device, which is 4cm long and the size of the lead of a pencil in diameter, will be given at clinics for free.

He said the device would be launched as part of a family planning programme in Ekurhuleni on Thursday, next week.

The two-day debate came to its conclusion on Wednesday evening, and Zuma is expected to reply to the debate on Thursday. –

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