South Africa’s national Department of Health says adolescents are at particular risk of mental health issues arising from using cannabis and that while the DoH supported decriminalisation, the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill was potentially a “slippery slope”, writes MedicalBrief.
The Bill will be the subject of two days of public hearings by Parliament’s Justice & Correctional Services Committee next week. This week, the committee heard the views of the Department of Health, which incorporated the input of the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority on Tuesday.
Health’s Deputy Director-General, DrAnban Pillay, along with Advocate Micro Moabelo, head of Doh’s legal services, told MPs in an online briefing to the Committee, available on YouTube that the Medical Research Council had highlighted that allowing cannabis for private use was likely to lead to its increased use by adolescents, due to more open use and greater exposure.
“We think that it (the Bill) does not go far enough in protecting adolescents from accessing and exposure to cannabis,” he said. The DoH made specific recommendations regarding wording, to achieve these aims.
Moabelo told the committee that the current definition of “smoke” in the Bill ignored the growing “heat-not-burn” market, such as vapes or other Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, which “can also deliver THC”. “Clarity is required between the definition of ‘smoke’ and ‘consumption’, in order that the clarity of the consumption or smoking of cannabis in public places is unambiguous with respect to these new means of administration.”
Pillay said that increased use of cannabis as a result of the Bill would increase the need for psychiatric services, which were already chronically under-resourced and unlikely to cope with increased demand. Cannabis misuse accounted for 22%-40% of drug abuse treatment in Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, while 77% of drug abuse treatment in the Free State, the North West and the Northern Cape were among persons 19 years and younger.
“This has been a trend that has been increasing over the past decade,” Pillay said. “We have concerns that the Bill may cause a slippery slope” in terms of cultivation, trade and use, despite the prohibitions in the bill. The public needed to be made aware of the harms associated with cannabis use, he said.
The Bill should specify that anyone giving or selling cannabis to a person under the age of 18, or failing to protect a child or adolescent from accessing cannabis, should be charged with committing an offence.
“Adolescents who are regular smokers of cannabis are at risk of arrested psychosocial development, which would obviously lead to other medical consequences. There is also a growing concern over the long-term effects of regular cannabis use on the adolescent brain.
“We need to remember that the human brain development continues until the age of about 25. So this is also a concern, particularly for young people who are in emerging adulthood and their access to cannabis and their consumption of the product.”
Pillay said there were also short-term effects on cognitive functioning and memory with the consumption of cannabis.
Cannabis use also affected the perceptual motor functioning of drivers and increased the risk of motor vehicle accidents. This was covered by the Bill, but Pillay said the police needed to be trained and equipped to deal with the offence.
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