There are 56 people in South Africa who have been granted special dispensation to import and use medicines containing cannabis, the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) says.
Everyone else who selling and using medicines containing dagga or its derivatives are doing so illegally, Sahpra warns in a statement – and that carries more than one kind of risk.
"Suppliers and users of such illegal products are exposing themselves and others to legal and health risks as the safety, efficacy and quality of these products cannot be assured," it says.
And it knows that "a number of outlets and individuals" are selling products that contain marijuana, or oil from the plant, or derivatives such as tetrahydrocannabinol or cannabidiol for medicinal use.
The 56 licensed individuals are using their imported medicine under section 21 of the Medicines and Related Substances Act, which provides a process to import medicines not licensed in South Africa, as long as such use is motivated for the individual patient by an authorised prescriber. Ideally such medicines are registered for use in the US, Australia, Canada, or Europe.
Other options may be available soon, though. Sahpra also said it has already inspected 16 applicants for licences that would allow them to grow cannabis for medicinal use, and other four applicants have such inspections scheduled. None have yet been approved, but Sahpra said it is taking "a developmental approach".
Under current rules potential licensees have to comply with strict provisions around security – to prevent diversion of any of their produce – and crop integrity, for instance in guarding against unintended cross-pollination of different cannabis strains.
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