Cannabis Bill

The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill has been controversial since it was made available to the public in 2020. The controversy has still not ended, as recent developments show the inclusion of a clause to authorise and regulate a commercial industry focused on recreational Cannabis use. The new clause came as a surprise at the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services’s Meeting on 8 March 2022 after the Committee had received input from the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, asking for the inclusion of a commercialisation clause.

The Commercial Clause

The first version of the Bill that includes the commercialisation clause seemed a bit messy, with elaborate conditions that lack focus, and a list of criteria to adhere to for involvement in the industry. Honourable Member Sarel Robbertse, who is in charge of drafting the Bill, has opted for a licensing scheme to authorise and regulate commercial recreational Cannabis under paragraph 3 of the new clause, suggesting that the following criteria must be considered for the issuing of any such license:

  • the encouragement of local economic growth and investment;
  • employment creation;
  • economic empowerment and development rural communities;
  • promotion of micro- and small businesses;
  • available local skills and skills transfer; and
  • Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment, in particular in relation to the Rastafarian community and other cultural and religious communities which have been prejudiced by past discrimination on the basis of their association with cannabis.

Other subclauses include, among others, the establishment of prevention and harm reduction strategies, provision of public education programmes, restricting access to Cannabis by any person under the age of 18 and establishing a National Cannabis Advisory Council. The new clause underwent much debate until the Committee decided to rope in the assistance of Dr Barbara Loots, the Parliamentary Legal Adviser.

Dr Barbara Loots has certainly shown much understanding in a short amount of time and adequately addressed the Portfolio Committee on the 23rd of March 2022 on her comments and update to the commercialisation clause. She suggested that paragraph 3 be amended to include the due consideration required in relation to the following:

  • harm reduction;
  • demand reduction;
  • public education and awareness campaigns in respect of the harms associated with recreational Cannabis;
  • prevention of persons under 18 to access recreational Cannabis;
  • prohibition of advertising or promotion of recreational Cannabis; and
  • population level monitoring of use and associated harms of recreational Cannabis.

Her amendments were submitted to the Committee and accepted without much debate.

Other New Clauses and changes

In its meeting on 23 March 2022, the Committee placed much emphasis on the active role the Rastafarian community assumed in their contributions to the Bill and it was clear that the Committee’s general desire was to respect and consider these contributions. Dr Loots anticipated this and drafted a new clause addressing special conditions that would apply to the Rastafarian religious community. A permit scheme is envisioned for this to authorise Rastafarians the cultivation, possession and use of Cannabis for religious purposes.

The final addition to the Bill is the inclusion of clauses speaking to medicinal use and palliative use. Palliative use refers to using Cannabis to relieve pain or other symptoms of an illness, without addressing the actual illness. Although a medicinal clause would seem redundant in a private use Bill in the light of existing legislation enabling medicinal use, we suppose the focus here is on self-use and self-medication.

The Committee has also revised the percentage of THC per volume in its definition of cannabis to read: “any substance which contains more than 2% THC per volume”. This is from the previously suggested 1%, which was raised from the first definition of 0,2%. Hopefully this means that the Hemp industry will have more room to breathe under the UV intense rays of the South African sun.

In another improvement, the imprisonment time frames for offences relating to the Bill have been reduced as follows:

  • Class A offence: From 15 years to 8 years
  • Class B offence: From 6 years to 4 years
  • Class C offence: From 4 years to 1 year
  • Class D offence: From 2 years to 6 months.

Honourable Member Njele expressed her concern that many single mothers in South Africa have found themselves entangled in the illicit market to survive and provide for their children and that the Committee should consider the fact that it will be removing these mothers from their children for many years – and this due to their inevitable involvement in Cannabis. The sentiment is certainly appreciated by the Cannabis community as a whole and we’re optimistic about having this mindset present in these discussions.

The Preliminary Report

The Portfolio Committee has now submitted a preliminary report to the House to ask permission for the expansion of the scope of the Bill. The inclusion of the above clauses goes beyond the mandate that the Committee had received when it was tasked with drafting the Bill. The original scope of the Bill spoke only to authorising and regulating the personal consumption of Cannabis by adult persons. The latest version of the Bill now includes the following three scope statements:

  • to provide for commercial activities in respect of recreational Cannabis;
  • to provide for cultivation, possession and supply of Cannabis plants and Cannabis by organisations for religious purposes in adherence to the Rastafarian faith, on behalf of its members;
  • and to use Cannabis for palliation or medication (addition to existing statement).

You can read the Preliminary Report here or on our Resources page.

The next steps for the Bill, should the House give the permission for the scope expansion, is that the public participation process will re-open for discussion on the new clauses and other additional changes that were made. This process is expected by the Committee to be able to place soon, in order to allow the continuation of its work and finalisation of the contents of the Bill.

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