High Time Cannabis Gets Legal In South Africa

These days it seems everyone is talking about marijuana. The cannabis industry is widespread in South Africa with many diverse users of it, the government has to look at ways to harness the legal use of this natural plant instead of criminalizing what has been proven to pose no more of a threat than that of what smoking a cigarette does.

The financial, social and medical benefits of cannabis legalization have been exhaustively documented, and a host of other liberal democracies are either legalizing or decriminalizing weed or at the very least discussing its legalization or decriminalization.

If the government starts the process of decriminalizing cannabis and takes control of its use and production for medical and commercial purposes, we can expect a relief over court cases, arrests and more in terms of impact on government resources and money. For the sake of public health and harm reduction, the relevant South African ministry and health boards should endorse a legalization approach.

The move to legalize and regulate cannabis in South Africa is long overdue. The criminalization of the plant and the war on drugs has failed. It doesn’t act as a deterrent. And the lasting impact on people is shocking: thousands are are arrested for possession every year; are carrying a criminal record for this offense.

Far too often, enforcement of these laws has disproportionally targeted marginalized populations. These harms are real … and with a regulated approach, they are practical to avoid by legalizing the use of marijuana.

It is time for a new approach to cannabis focused on public health and safety. On this, many of us agree. The task now is to develop a regulatory framework and that’s where things get interesting.

Let’s start with some basics. Cannabis is the most commonly used (currently) illegal drug across the w0rld. Cannabis use may be common place todays society, but so are the harms associated with it. As medical professionals have reported, there are real health risks. Like tobacco, there are serious respiratory impacts. When used frequently, it can affect memory and is associated with increased risk of impairment to cognitive functioning.

What Science Says About Marijuana

All illegal drugs are bad, but to also consider whether crack, methamphetamines or prescription painkillers are more addictive or physically harmful than marijuana.The clear consensus of science that marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco.

Marijuana cannot lead to a fatal overdose. There is little evidence that it causes cancer. Its addictive properties, while present, are low, and the myth that it leads users to more powerful drugs has long since been disproved.

That doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless; in fact, the potency of current strains may shock those who haven’t tried it for decades, particularly when ingested as food. It can produce a serious dependency, and constant use would interfere with job and school performance. It needs to be kept out of the hands of minors. But, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking.

Comparing the Dangers As with other recreational substances, marijuana’s health effects depend on the frequency of use, the potency and amount of marijuana consumed, and the age of the consumer. Casual use by adults poses little or no risk for healthy people. Its effects are mostly euphoric and mild, whereas alcohol turns some drinkers into barroom brawlers, domestic abusers or maniacs behind the wheel.

The very heaviest users can experience symptoms of bronchitis, such as wheezing and coughing, but moderate smoking poses little risk. A 2012 study found that smoking a joint a day for seven years was not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function. Experts say that marijuana increases the heart rate and the volume of blood pumped by the heart, but that poses a risk mostly to older users who already have cardiac or other health problems.

How Addictive Is Marijuana? Marijuana isn’t addictive in the same sense as heroin, from which withdrawal is an agonizing, physical ordeal. But it can interact with pleasure centers in the brain and can create a strong sense of psychological dependence that addiction experts say can be very difficult to break. Heavy users may find they need to take larger and larger doses to get the effects they want. When they try to stop, some get withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sleeping difficulties and anxiety that are usually described as relatively mild.

Let’s not kid ourselves, while cannabis offers very important medicinal benefits, it can also bring significant harms. It is not benign — that’s why there is a need for a strong regulatory framework that the South African government can start working on. A regulatory approach will allow us to mitigate the negative health effects while avoiding the broader social impacts of criminalization.