Pubdate: Fri, 06 Jun 2014
Source: Cape Argus (South Africa)
Copyright: 2014 Cape Argus.
Author: Sipokazi Fokazi
Page: 12


It will generate income and reduce drug ills, say boffins

MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini's impassioned plea in Parliament to have
dagga legalised for medical use has received support from scientists,
with one Cape Town researcher suggesting decriminalising it could
reduce drug ills and generate income for the government.

JP van Niekerk, consulting editor of the SA Medical Journal, wrote in
this month's issue that dagga was much less harmful than two legalised
drugs: alcohol and tobacco.

He described Oriani-Ambrosini's plea as a wake-up call, but said it
was probably wiser to go beyond legalising marijuana for medical purposes.

"There is good evidence that decriminalisation of the use of drugs
reduces the harm of drugs, reduces the power of the drug lords, and
generates revenue for the government. A good case can be made for its

Van Niekerk said the regulation of the drug would allow medical
researchers to test the use of dagga for medical or social purposes
without fear of persecution.

In February Oriani-Ambrosini, who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung
cancer in April last year and given six months to live, made a plea to
President Jacob Zuma in the National Assembly to legalise medical marijuana.

He introduced a private member's bill, the Medical Innovations Bill,
that aimed to legalise and regulate alternative treatments for cancer,
including cannabis.

He told Zuma that even though he was supposed to have died many months
ago, "I am here because I had the courage of taking illegal treatments
in Italy in the form of bicarbonate of soda, and here in SA in the
form of cannabis, marijuana or dagga.

"Otherwise, I would be pumped with morphine and I would not be able to
speak to you."

Responding, Zuma expressed distress to see Oriani-Ambrosini, whom he
had known for more than 20 years, in such a condition, and referred
him to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

Van Niekerk said while the country's National Drug Master Plan,
20132017, had called for further research on the issue, "bold
leadership and action" was needed rather than revisions of the plan.

Professor Charles Parry, acting vice president of the Medical Research
Council and director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research
Unit, said while there was evidence of harm associated with cannabis
use there was also emerging evidence about its anti-cancer properties,
particularly its anti-tumour effects.

Cannabis's negative effects included its contribution to road traffic
injuries, trauma, and sexually risky behaviour.

Given the divide between reported medical benefits and risks, Parry
said there was a need for proper research.

"Although evidence from pre-clinical studies points to the potential
for cannabinoids to contribute to symptom alleviation and possible
effects on disease status for a number of medical conditions, there
are significant gaps in our understanding of the potential benefits
and risks associated with their use.

"Most notable is the lack of evidence from human trials."

Parry said the government should make it easier for researchers to
conduct studies, and provide funding.

Such research should include investigation of factors that led to
policy shifts in countries that had legalised the use of cannabis,
their experiences of the policy shift, and conducting clinical trials
to study the effect of the drug in alleviation of diseases.
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