Pubdate: Thu, 08 Aug 2013
Source: Star, The (South Africa)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers 2013
Author: Pierre Heistein
Note: Pierre Heistein is the convener for UCT's Applied Economics for
Smart Decision-Making course.
Page: 18


WEED, dope, marijuana, cannabis  they're words that strike fear into
the hearts of policymakers. Except in Uruguay, where last Wednesday
the House of Representatives passed a bill to legalise marijuana.

The bill is expected to be approved by the Senate and signed by
President Jose Mujica as the initiative to legalise the drug was not
driven by activist groups, but by the president himself.

Once approved, Uruguay will become the first country in the world to
legalise the growing, selling and recreational use of marijuana. The
world is watching to see what the impact of recreational drug use will
be, but in the background the liberalisation may pave the way for a
shift in global industries.

Marijuana, also referred to as cannabis, is only useful as a
psychiatric drug if consumed in such a way that its
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compounds enter the blood stream to produce
an intoxicated sensation. In addition to this use, however, there
remain thousands of other applications for the plant.

Researchers at Harvard University have shown that injected THC
prevents cancer cells from reproducing, spreading to other organs, and
  especially important to brain cancer  it causes tumour cells to turn
on each other, causing them to die without damaging surrounding cell
matter. Cannabis has also been linked to medical benefits related to
glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, diabetes, and in
slowing formations in the brain that lead to Alzheimer's.

The medical use of cannabis is legal in a number of countries
including Canada, France, Israel, the UK, Netherlands, Peru, Chile,
Argentina, and certain states in the US. It remains illegal in South
Africa. Despite its legality in certain countries, the industry is
highly regulated and patients and suppliers need to undergo rigorous
qualification processes in order to produce or consume products
containing THC.

The UN's Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs allows countries to
criminalise the growth and use of cannabis for all non-research
purposes and gives the state full control over where and how research
into the use of the drug is performed. This places massive
restrictions on the progress that can be made in this area of science
by pharmaceutical companies or individuals.

The use of hemp, a collective term for strains of cannabis that have
no or very low levels of THC, is more widely accepted although still
placed under strict regulation. Because of its nutritious oils and
strong fibres, hemp is used in a vast range of products including
nutrition supplements, fabrics and clothing, ropes, insulation and
other building materials, and plastics. Most leading car makers
include hemp products in their vehicles. As early as 1941 Henry Ford
experimented with hemp and plastic composites to make car bodies
lighter and stronger.

While the benefits and applications of cannabis have been, and
continue to be, explored, it has always been under a "Big Brother"
environment with the law close at hand to ensure that no recreational
drug use takes place as a consequence.

Uruguay has taken the leap and opened the gates, and while in the
short-term conversation will be dominated by the increasing smoke
cloud hanging over the small South American country, the long term
could give way to some world-changing technological

Growth and production of cannabis products may be illegal in many
other parts of the world, but the importation of proven technologies
with cannabis ingredients is not.

Researchers in Uruguay have been given carte blanche to independently
build on the slow progress that has been made in more stringent
countries. If they are successful and create profitable medical and
goods industries from the liberalisation of cannabis controls, it is
likely that the rest of the world will soon follow.
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